The very hardest bit about learning to write is in being able to successfully translate your story vision to enough readers. You want them to see what you see, feel what you feel with enough accuracy that the readers are engaged to the same degree you were when the story vision occurred to you. It’s simple, but not easy.
Writing Tip for Today: How can we close the gap between what we envision and what our readers experience?
One of the first ways we writers can connect more completely with our readers is to remember to write to the particular. E.B. White famously said, “Don’t write about man; write about a man.” Good writers, it’s been said, are always in a perpetual state of noticing. This doesn’t necessarily mean you load your prose with more modifiers. In fact, most great writers are somewhat stingy with adjectives or adverbs. Rather, shoot for very specific nouns and verbs as you narrate the story for your readers. You might know this as Concrete Sensory Detail (CSD). Let them see the Ferrari rather than the sports car; the stand of birches rather than a bunch of trees. For writers, the general really can be the enemy of the particular, so the more specific and particular your writing is, the more likely that readers will see, hear, touch (etc) the same things you do in the story.
If readers understand what a story is showing them because you have laid out specific and particular prose, the gap still isn’t entirely closed. As you propel your characters through a story, readers want more than just the facts. Readers are always searching for character emotions that they can relate to—either because they’ve been through a similar situation or because they’ve experienced similar emotions. A colleague of mine recently told about receiving a bunch of missed calls from a number that could’ve been her son who was deployed overseas. When she realized she’d missed the calls, she was frantic and got even more worried when no one answered her attempts to call the number. Thinking her son was in serious trouble, she panicked until she finally figured out the caller was only a salesperson, not her son in trouble. The experience was frustrating but her emotions were perfect for the fiction she was working on. To close the gap between your story vision and readers’ experience, draw on your deepest and truest emotions. It’s not always easy, and you may have to rewrite through many layers of your own tendencies to self-protect, but if you persist the reward is more readers who really “get” what you write.
Same but Different
One roadblock to bringing together yours and your readers’ experience is to think readers must experience your story exactly the way you do. Writers who insist on describing every detail of a scene and its action will often be disappointed to learn readers checked out long ago. When writing about the particular, the trick is to know which details to write and which to omit. If you force readers to become swamped in a sea of details, they won’t know which ones to pay attention to. And if you try to maneuver reader emotions, it’s kind of like the wife who asks her husband to say he loves her. If you have to ask, it’s not the same. Choose a few important details/actions/emotions for your readers and let them assume or fill in a few too. Yes, it takes practice. As I said, it’s simple—but definitely not easy.