You don’t get credit for the words you don’t write

March 30, 2014

As a writer, it’s sometimes hard to remember a truth that sounds totally obvious when stated out loud – other people cannot read my mind. I have to say every little detail, or you’ll never know.

In describing a scene, building a character, or advancing a plot, there are countless details lodged away in the insanity that is my mind, innumerable details about what everything looks like, what feelings the characters have, their fears, their desires, their pasts, and even their futures. I know more about the characters in my stories than I do about any living human, myself included, and I know more about that world than I do of Earth. I can even look into the future. No–I can shape the future.

But the rest of you? You don’t get any of that. You only get what I put down on the page, and any thoughts or emotions it inspires in your heads. If I don’t say it, it doesn’t count, because you’ll never know.

As a writer, you don’t get credit for the words you don’t write. Put it on the page or it may as well never have happened, at least as far as the reader is concerned.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Sam

    “I have to say every little detail, or you’ll never know.”
    “As a writer, you don’t get credit for the words you don’t write.”

    I couldn’t agree less with these statements. The reader should be able to come to their own conclusions, have their own interpretations, fill in the blanks you leave. If you provide every single detail, writing inevitably degenerates into a dull infodump. Even if you avoid telling and instead show your ‘innumerable details’, you’ll end up with awkward storytelling stale with meaningless frill.

    “You only get what I put down on the page, and any thoughts or emotions it inspires in your heads.”

    What I’m getting from this post in general is a profound lack of respect for your readers. If your story is coherent, consistent, and internally logical, your readers do not need to have their hand held like little children. If I ever come across a book that provides every single detail, a book that makes a dictatorship out of my imagination… I’d flush it down the toilet like the predigested shit it is.

    1. Reply

      Stilts

      Ahaha, don’t take it the wrong way. It’s hard to explain these things sometimes without being able to give examples, but since I haven’t published my book yet, a bit hard : )

      You only get what I put down on the page, and any thoughts or emotions it inspires in your heads.

      Consider that more what I was going for. No, you absolutely should not hold your reader’s hands like children (even if your readers are children – they’re clever little suckers). Yes, you should absolutely harness the power of your reader’s imaginations and let them flesh out your world as they please. Those are some of the great things about written fiction in particular, because it can be both adult and participative.

      What you should not do is completely forget an important detail because you (the author) know it, but the readers have no way of knowing it because you never even hinted at it. If a character is supposed to be arrogant, I’ve got to show you that he or she is arrogant at least a little for you to pick up and run with it. I’ve got to give hints at the very least.

      I’m not saying I should hold the reader’s hand. What I’m saying is I can’t expect them to conjure the correct details out of thin air when I forgot to include even a hint. Does that make more sense?

      Thank you for the comment, by the way. I hadn’t realized my post could be taken that way, so hopefully your comment + this reply will clarify it better.

      1. Reply

        Sam

        I suppose this was a case where you got negative credit because of words you didn’t write! The second statement I quoted is really quite unfortunate, taken literally, and it triggered a knee-jerk reaction in me. Now, I love me an artfully constructed sentence, but words unwritten, implied information that your readers pick up on because your world and story make sense to them, I think those are the most beautiful.

        1. Stilts

          Writing is a minefield, where the slightest misstep – in any direction! – will end with an explosion in your face. That’s part of what makes it fun 😀

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