Have you read a portion of a book and felt lost? Not lost in a good way-like captivated in the adventure and unable to hear even the phone ring--but floundering around the words, wondering where the story was going.
As writers we often get caught up in our stories. We envelop ourselves with our character's world knowing what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Our fingers tap the keys faster than Superman can fly spilling events, settings, heartaches, and triumphs on the page.
This is good, but can be a problem for our readers. How?
1. A detail is skipped. While writing, our minds visualize the scene. We know what it looks like and forget the reader is not with us until we take them there. It's like the time I sat in the passenger seat, responsible for directing the driver to where we were going. Caught up in conversation, I forget to tell him to turn. The first thought was: he didn't turn. Second thought: oh yeah, I forgot to tell him.
Who can save us? Crit partners. The crit partner's fresh eyes catches these mistakes in lightening speed. I must admit, when someone points out a skipped detail in my work I first think- Nah. It's there. They just didn't see it. Then I humble myself, reread the section and realize I need to thank my crit partner. Here is a post to help if you need a crit partner: Ten Ways to Find/Be a Crit Partner
2. Black and white words. Dragnet style writing--like a case study. We as writers plan what is included in a scene and start to write. We have the details-get the MC on the train and to grandmother's house before the wolf arrives. Train rides can be boring, right? Nothing but scenery, kids screaming, people talking, and hot coffee being spilled. The walk to grandmother's house isn't that interesting either. Walking through woods can be boring, right? Nothing but twigs snapping, leaves blowing in the wind, animals howling. The goal is to get to grandmother's house.
But had the MC been allowed to share her feelings on the page, the reader would have known someone with bad breath-like they ate pork, sat behind her on the train. The person must have had a cold for all the huffing they did. And when the MC walked through the woods, an animal, slightly bigger than a dog, kept pace with her but at a distance as if insuring she went the correct way. The suspense builds in the train and the woods leaving the reader ripe for what terrible event may happen at grandmother's house.
When you finish a scene, go back and look for places that may have been rushed. Here is a post by Alley Cat Casey Herringshaw to help: Show Me-Don't Tell Me
3. Dramatic effect. Every story, no matter what the genre, has scenes where emotion can be hyped. Overdone emotion, even suspense, loses the intended result. The reader feels insulted because the obvious was slapped in their face.
Signs of unnecessary dramatic effect in our writing are:
* The "!" A well written scene about a lion attacking the MC will show the pounding paws, the huge teeth, the piercing claws, the booming roar, the excruciating pain, etc. No "!" needed. A well written scene about a soldier returning from war to surprise his wife will show her heart pulsing, his gorgeous face, the scent she's missed, the comfort of his embrace, his warm lips touching hers, and the passion overwhelming every thought. No "!" needed.
*Repeated words Rarely is a repeated word necessary-even for dramatic effect. This includes synonyms and rephrasing of the same word or phrase. Like a good medicine, this technique only works when used sparingly--maybe once in a manuscript.
However, repeated words can work well in humor. In the movie Second Hand Lions, the mother looks at her boyfriend laying on the ground, "He's dead, dead, dead." In the movie, Clue, Tim Curry repeats the events leading to each death before adding the new detail.
4. Writing the Obvious Writers caught up in their story world sometimes include the obvious when their excellent words before and after expressed the meaning perfectly. Cut these words from your scene. Here are some examples:
She picked up her favorite ball point pen and scrawled her killer's name on the last piece of stationery from her desk, then collapsed. Unless this pen or the stationery is important evidence, even as a red herring, delete them. She scrawled her killer's name then collapsed. While this may sound too short, other essential words can heighten the suspense.
She wiped a tear with a tissue from the box on the end table. OR She wiped a tear using her index finger. The only needed words are: She wiped a tear. The rest is obvious in a well written scene.
He brought the hammer down, determined to force the nail into the stud. "Daddy?" called his daughter. Her sweet voice distracted him the second his hammer made contact. "Ow!" The impact jarred him senseless. He jerked his thumb away thinking the four letter words he couldn't say. You probably guessed already. The obvious word here is "Ow!" Delete it.
Fixing clarity and obvious issues doesn't mean we should write more words or less. It means write what best paints the picture.
I chose this topic because this is my quirk. My crit partner, bless her heart, fills the right column of my submissions with comments about adding clarity and weeding out the obvious. I'm learning.
Reader-Since I am learning this topic along with you, help me by suggesting other ways we make mistakes with clarity and writing the obvious. Do you have another example for any of the points above?
Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.