Learning to Let Go

Discussion in 'Articles' started by JBeckingham, Jun 11, 2013.

By JBeckingham on Jun 11, 2013 at 7:00 PM
  1. JBeckingham

    JBeckingham Member

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    Learning to Let Go

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by JBeckingham, Jun 11, 2013.

    When I first started writing, I had a dream – a vision, if you will, of the mystical land I had created and the fantastic creatures who inhabited it. I knew inside my own head how it looked, how the people thought, how they would react, all of it. And that is where my problem started.

    How could that be, you ask? How could having such a grand vision be a bad thing? Because in all my imagining and writing, I had forgotten one very important fact – once a story comes out of your head and onto a sheet of paper (or computer screen, as is more common these days) it is no longer your story!

    Allow me to explain.

    My vision of my world and my characters was so vivid that I wanted every reader to experience it the way I had imagined it. I over-described scenery and overcomplicated dialogue because I wanted people to know that this landscape and people were “just-so”. I didn’t give the reader enough credit to know what I meant, and that made my story a chore to wade through (he says with 10 years hindsight).

    Inside my own head, I could know that a cave was 5 metres tall, 3 metres wide, deep, dark, smelled of rotten tomatoes and ten day old cheese, had a family of rats complete with newborn litter of ratlings, an old fire-pit and crevices in the top that would allow smoke to drift away, some odd blue / green algae and a problem with water drainage at one end. The problem came when actually put all of that on paper and expected anyone to read it - especially when that cave was a not a significant landmark.

    When I was first writing, I found that just about every time I described things, I had multiple adjectives or adverbs. The cave was "dank and stagnant", "stuffy and stinking", the person was "raving and furious". Ok, obvious examples and perhaps they seem a little silly in isolation, but I assure you they are more common than you might think. The rule of thumb that I eventually made for myself was, if I come across more than one instance of multiple adjectives / adverbs in a paragraph, two at an absolute push, then I was probably needed to re-read it and check if I was over describing.

    The other problem I this caused was no one ever just said anything – they shouted, they growled, they whispered, they roared, they rumbled, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Why? Because that’s how I wanted the dialogue to play out, and given I was the author, everyone should share my vision. Right?

    By over describing everything, I took away one of the fundamental things that makes reading great – the reader’s own imagination. Yes, Iwrote the story, but it is up to the reader to interpret it in any way they choose! I may imagine a scene playing out dramatically with the two characters screaming viciously at each other on the verge of fisticuffs, where someone else may imagine them whispering coldly with naked hatred in their eyes, and that is a good thing. Readers need that power of imagination in their own hands or they won’t enjoy the experience. If they wanted to have every detail described to them, they would have just waited for the movie!

    Imagination is great, description is a necessity, but always remember to leave some things for the reader to fill in the blanks, especially the mundane things. I think Stephen King sums it up fantastically in his book “On Writing”:

    “If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you? I don’t need to give you a pimple-by-pimple, skirt-by-skirt rundown.”

    It took me a long time to learn this lesson and to let go of complete control of my writing, but I was much better for it when I did. I don’t think my wife has quite forgiven me for making her slog through the early manuscripts …
     
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Comments

Discussion in 'Articles' started by JBeckingham, Jun 11, 2013.

    1. Robert.M
      Robert.M
      Good article. I had the same problem at my attempts in screenwriting. Getting a little heavy on scenery and action scenes.
    2. jannert
      jannert
      Well said. It's nice to know somebody else's early efforts resembled mine, especially when it comes to multiple adjectives. Yikes. Makes SUCH a difference to get rid of them.
      JBeckingham likes this.
    3. MattTalent
      MattTalent
      That was a great article. I've ALWAYS had problems with being overly descriptive in my writing, and I have to learn to keep only the most important details. I am writing a story of my own right now (see this for the initial discussion on it: https://www.writingforums.org/threads/how-do-i-write-about-multi-day-events-such-as-going-to-school-every-day.131386/ ), and I'm trying my very best not to go overboard on the description (especially the visuals). I'm not sure if I'm allowed to quote paragraphs from my own work in here, but here is an example from my own story:
      "At once, the blinding sun beamed its light and warmth down on me. Once my eyes adjusted, I just stood there and looked around at the neighborhood as if it was going to be my last time there. Every house was different from each other: there were glass houses like mine, stone houses, brick houses, and even one that was underground. The front lawns were enormous since the houses were placed what seemed like twenty feet apart. The sun gleamed off of the windows of each home, illuminating the fresh green grass that dominated nearly everyone’s front yard."
      JBeckingham and hansraj like this.
    4. hansraj
      hansraj
      a very valid important lesson . thanks
    5. davidharper
      davidharper
      Good article on writing. I love to read online writing tutor articles as it gives lots of good things to writers and we can easily improve our skills.
    6. Berkwin
      Berkwin
      Thank you for writing this. I actually have the opposite problem most of the time: I have only the skeleton of my ideas sitting in my head, so I have to take an extra week or two to let the story slowly cook itself in my head before it has enough meat on it to be served on paper. This involves a lot of daydreaming. A lot.
    7. Jasmine1019
      Jasmine1019
      I often have this problem with "over describing" my stories. But how exactly do you know how much is too much and when its not enough?

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