In a way, it’s probably good to be detail-oriented as a writer. I mean, too much detail is very annoying in books, (c’mon, get on with the story! I don’t care what fiber makes up her dress, what happens next?!) but worse than that is a vague tale. Leaving too much up to the reader’s imagination ruins the whole purpose of writing. You want your ideas on the paper, in their head, so get them out there!
So, how does one go about making sure there is just enough detail in her story? I’ve decided that this week, I’ve got to figure this out. I know what I want the story to sound like, what the character is thinking, who hates who, who wears what, what the building looks like on the inside, but when glancing over my work for errors, how can I make sure the reader knows that?
Let’s say “Sara”, our main character, is feeling confused about a decision she’s got to make. I could just say, “Sara’s confused about this.” and sound horribly lame and stupid. So I won’t do that. There’s always the option that I can have her just say it:
Sara jabs a familiar number into her phone. “Cait, I need some advice. I don’t know what to do.”
That would be a little vague, but you’d get the point that Sara isn’t able to figure her decision out alone. That’s quite a bit of implying though. Another option is to have Sara think it.
What am I going to do? Sara thinks. I’m so confused.
However, that’s boring. The only other option I can think of is to show everyone that Sara’s baffled (which is normally the best choice). Why is it the best choice? See for yourself:
Sara flops onto her bed and thinks. And thinks. She stares out the window, willing an idea to come to her. And thinks some more. The deadline for her answer that had been gnawing at her mind for days finally surfaces and Sara feels hopeless. Which choice will benefit everyone? The pressure on her clouds her mind as the time left quickly ticks by.
Doesn’t that give a better insight onto what Sara is feeling than just, “Sara’s having some trouble making this decision”? I know I would rather read the last option than the other options. Now that I know what kind of detail I should go into, I’ve got to pretend I’m the Reader, not the Writer, when proof-reading. So I can ask “Why is she telling/showing us this? What’s happening now? What does this look like? Who is that? How does the character feel about this?” and make sure I’ve got the answers right there on the page.