Lately, I’ve been reading novels and manuscripts where the writer has taken the role of director too seriously. By that I mean the writer seems so afraid the reader will not see exactly what the writer intends, room for conclusions or imagination is squashed. At least it is for me. I call it “micro-managing the reader.”
Writing Tip for Today: Writers are told to be concise, be specific, be particular. This is great if we’re talking about CSD or a character’s emotions. So how can a writer be too specific?
- Too much detail slows the story. When you meet a person, you generally take it that person’s appearance as a whole and then perhaps note that the person’s wearing red suspenders, that her hair is falling across her eyes or that he’s got a lisp. In fiction, if you start at the head and paint the entire picture in excruciating detail down to the toes, your reader has likely forgotten why that person was there in the first place. When you describe a character, use only a few well-chosen details that stand out or otherwise sum up the person.
- Careful with specifics. Be careful in using those Concrete Sensory Details, especially if numbers are involved. I don’t know about you, but after a couple of numbers. I zone out. Better than using measurements (he was 46.5 inches from me), try comparing the object with something that brings instant recognition (the spider was as big as a dinner plate).
- Look for prepositional phrases. If a scene contains a lot of unnecessary prepositional phrases, chances are the writer is micromanaging. Heard the expression RUE? (Resist the Urge to Explain)? Searching out prepositional phrases is often a way to root out these “explanatory” bits (EX: A prickling of unease on the back of his neck caused him to shift in his chair.) Could have been written: The back of his neck prickled. He shifted in his chair. Leave the rest to the reader to interpret.
As the Director of your novel, it is your job to show the reader what is happening on stage. But allowing for “reader interpretation” actually frees you to write tighter, stronger prose than if you try too hard to make your reader see a certain thing. Remember: Less is More!