Written by Samantha A House
One of the hardest things I have had to learn with writing is to leave some of it for the readers imagination. I have this habit of wanting to hammer home my meaning and in the process bludgeoning it to death. It makes for overly long, elaborately explained prose that a reader usually ends up skim reading. Or, heaven forbid, stops reading altogether. To ensure that doesn’t happen to you, here are the tips I wish someone had told me when I started writing.
- Trust your reader!! I can’t emphasis this enough. Your reader is not stupid, they will pick up on the clues you’ve laid down. Yes, they are not mind readers but they can read between the lines.
Example: The broken vase sparkled in the sunlight like the diamonds on her ring finger.
The reader will more than likely make the assumption from this line that the character is engaged, you don’t need to state it. It’s the classic ‘show, don’t tell’ in action.
- You don’t need to repeat things in the same paragraph. Once again, trust your reader. They’ll follow along with you so long as you have things in sequential order.
Example: Terry smacked his fist into the wall beside Claire’s head. Flinching from the sound of the fist connecting to the wall, she knocked over the blue vase.
It reads much more easily if you write it like this: Terry smacked his fist into the wall beside Claire’s head. Flinching, she knocked over the blue vase.
The reader knows what Claire is flinching from because of the order it’s written.
- Don’t describe every detail. It gets boring. Sometimes though, there is a reason for things to be described like that. It’s cluing the reader in on something that’ll be important momentarily. However, please use discretion.
Example: Terry smacked his fist into the wall beside Claire’s head. Flinching, she knocked over the blue vase, the broken chips sparkling in the sunlight like the diamonds on her ring finger.
Ordinarily you wouldn’t describe the vase breaking or its colour as that would be too much detail. But it’s serving the purpose of being a physical representation of Terry and Claire’s relationship and reinforcing for the reader that it’s broken. Adding one extra description though, like in the below example, becomes overkill and the line loses its impact.
Example: Terry smacked his fist into the wall beside Claire’s head. Flinching, she knocked over the blue vase, causing it to fall like autumn leaves on the floor, the broken chips sparkling in the sunlight like the diamonds on her ring finger.
It is tempting to keep that extra line, because it’s more poetic sounding, but imagine an entire book like that. Keep it to a minimum to highlight the things the reader needs to know.
- Be clear about what the paragraph/sentence/chapter etc. is there for. If you’re not sure why you’ve written something, the reader isn’t going to be sure about it either. Don’t use the excuse of being a pantser either, there are first drafts for a reason. Make sure your words count.
- Read widely. Not just the bestsellers or the most popular poet of the moment. Even if you stumble across a piece of writing that is completely cringe worthy, read it and identify what it is about it that makes you cringe. Then take the lesson and apply it to your own works.
Well, I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any tips as well. 🙂 Have a happy and creative day everyone!