I love April. Next to November, it’s my favorite month. Just wanted to get that off my chest.
I really enjoyed Debbie’s post on Wednesday, April 3. She talked about how we, as writers, need to trust our readers and not spell everything out for them in minute detail. She added a couple of great quotes. This from Hemingway: "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them."
And this from Les Edgerton, author of Finding Your Voice: "The writer should provide the "bones" or skeleton of the story and the reader furnishes the flesh..."
Wonderful advice from both.
For the past 2 or 3 years I’ve enjoyed the privilege of judging writing contests, one which is sponsored for unpublished writers. The biggest mistake new writers make, in my opinion, is exactly what Hemingway and Edgerton were talking about: All too often, new writers in particular don’t trust the reader. They feel they must tell everything they know about the characters and their plight – often on the first page – rather than allowing the reader to DISCOVER. And isn’t that what reading is all about, discovery? They give huge information dumps, and if we’re at all invested in the story, we have to sift through all that superfluous stuff to find the valuable. But the big risk these writers take is that we won’t become invested. Not even a little. I find myself in a strange place these days where time is concerned. It feels more precious than ever to me, and what spare time I have for reading is going to be spent on jewels, not junk. Sorry if that's harsh.
Now, that may sound harsh, too. But the writer is taking a tremendous risk -- a risk that the reader will keep reading to try to find a gem inside their writing. Perhaps relatives will. Perhaps friends will. But an editor just won't. If after a page or two there is no spark, there is no further reading. After all, the editor or judge didn't invest in that book, and he or she can throw it away without a second thought.
She got me back, though. As she stood to leave our little table she told me she had an appointment with D___________ (insert name of important publisher) and she would prove everything I told her was wrong.
When I graduated with a degree in English Literature and Elementary Education, I skipped off to teach a roomful of fourth-grade students, believing I was prepared to make that year the best learning year of their lives. I was almost right. It was a great year of learning, for me! And I kept on learning the art of teaching and still do. When I plunged into writing, I had a trophy case of As to prove some really smart people thought I could write. That wasn't enough either. And the books I read on fiction writing or a clinic or two I attended weren't the beginning and end of making me into a writer. It takes TONS of practice.
My biggest mistake--and I still struggle with this, although I'm getting better--was not giving my characters enough conflict, interior and exterior. This is the mistake I see in the contests I judge. The result is a story where nothing happens. Boring! We want to be nice to our characters and show them in their best light. Conflict doesn't develop at all, or it's resolved too quickly and easily.
We need to get real.