Writing Struggle #1

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?

For example:
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.

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4 thoughts on “Writing Struggle #1

  1. I think that last way is cool enough, but I love it when authors just give the plot and don’t fill it in with too much fluff. Like, have you ever read “Night” by Elie Wiesel? It’s very vague, written a bit like a newspaper article, I think, and doesn’t dwell too much on details. It makes it seem MORE realistic, I think, because if you’re stuck in Auschwitz you’re not really gonna be examining your feelings or surroundings too much– yer gonna be stuck on trying to survive. Obviously that won’t apply to every story, nor should it, but I certainly think there’s a place for vagueness. You touched on it, but to add: answer the questions your readers will ask- and ONLY those questions. Nobody cares about what color Elie’s clothes are if they don’t know whether or not his dad is dead, for instance.

    • I could go into great detail about this comment, but all I will say is this: You will not get anywhere as a writer if you ask only the questions the readers ask.

      • no, I still disagree. At least in terms of detail- essentially POINTLESS detail- it’s totally true. I, at least, hate it, and I really could not care less about, I dunno, what color the flowers on the tree are, because it adds NOTHING to the story. Obviously, sometimes detail is good, like if that tree was where Jucwiequah had her first kiss with Olli, and it’s more of a part in the story, than I may ask myself “HMM I WONDER WHAT COLOR THOSE FLOWERS ARE” (though I still maintain that there are PLENTY of authors who write EXTREMELY well without much detail. You can hardly say that Elie Wiesel has gotten “nowhere” as a writer). In terms of plot and all that, well DUH. You gotta be a bit surprising. But to say that “you won’t get anywhere as a writer” by not filling in with useless garbage-y information? DU BIST NICHT STIMMT, CHARLOTTE.

      • Okay, for one, I do hope you are aware that Elie Wiesel’s “Night” is non-fiction – it is his account of his stays at concentration camps. So of course it would be realistic; he is stating the facts. And if you keep worrying about the reader’s opinion, then your story will most likely become less original to you, and just a story of what you think you should write about, not what you want. I was not saying that garbage details make a story unique, I was saying your story is not your reader’s story – it’s your own – so you should put what you want in it.

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