Tuesday 10 April 2012

Less is more ...

How as writers do we ensure we allow our readers the luxury of working things out for themselves?

Sometimes it's too easy for us to describe or explain every little thing, but this not only insults a reader's intelligence but makes for a boring story. When we read we want to engage with the characters, feel their highs and lows as if experiencing them ourselves. We all use our own imagination and knowledge to create a scene in our heads when we read. In reality our image may be different from the one the author saw but this does not make it incorrect or mean that the writing is poor. As a reader, I love it when you get to the 'ahha' moment in a book. When you suddenly understand the relevance of that funny little comment on page 20 or the real significance of the main protagonists over reaction to something that happened much earlier. It's the pleasure of that slow unravelling that surely makes a good story.

With this in mind are the things we don't write what make a story come to life?

As writers we all know about the over use of adjectives and adverbs. I know I have fallen prey to this on numerous occasions. You write something, it seems brilliant, you re read it and think OMG, have I just swallowed a dictionary or what! This can often be in stark contrast to my day job as a teaching assistant. Here I often work with groups of 8 or 9 year olds on their creative writing. Then I have to encourage them  to use a sickening amount of adjectives and adverbs in their stories. Phrases like, "That's a lovely story Lucy but let's see if we can really describe what that dog looks like?" All the adjectives under the sun suddenly trip over themselves trying to get out my mouth and into Lucy's writing! But I try to leave it at school in the classes designed to widen a child's vocabulary and hopefully instill in them a love of words that will last a lifetime.

So my lesson this week is going to be less is sometimes more. I am not going to be afraid of describing the dog as black and leaving it at that!


  1. LOL! This is so true. What an enormous contrast between what we teach children to write and what we find "publishable" later! Why is that, I wonder? It makes no sense. I teach writing to 1st graders with the help of a therapy dog, and one of the things that we always stress is the use of detail. Not an abundance of detail. Just one or two that will add specificity to bring a story or character to life. Even working with kids that young, the success of the story is built on the details, and there is definitely a correlation between the uniqueness of the detail and how much the kids love the story.

    Nice post!


  2. Thanks Martina, really interesting to hear about your therapy dog. I bet the kids love it!


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