A Moment on Clarity

A Moment on Clarity

We all have those moments when we know exactly what we’re trying to say, but we just don’t quite express it well enough to make other people fully understand. Sometimes, it’s the same with writing. It’s an easy trap to fall into, without even realizing that you’ve done just that. We, as writers, have the luxury of knowing exactly what we’re describing, because we see it in our mind’s eye. The problem lies in the telling. Are we using enough words? Are we using too many? Are they even the right words?

Whether you’re describing a particularly amazing sunset, the taste of a well-cooked meal or the surface of an alien world, the rights words make all the difference in the image you convey to your readers. For example, you could simply say the food was delicious and your reader would likely accept that. Now if you were to say that the food was perfectly seasoned, with hints of different spices and just exactly the right amount of heat, it changes the image completely. Descriptors are everything in writing. You can simply say the food was delicious if that was just a detail you were passing over, but it your main character is a chef, then we’re going to assume it was delicious. We want to know how it was delicious. What made it stand out? Especially if those same details play a significant role in the story.

The same can be said for virtually any details. Is it important to the story and will it have a defined presence in said story? If so, then you might want to add in more descriptors than simply saying the house was old. You’re painting a picture with your words, for the readers to see in their minds. While their own experiences and memories can fill in some of the details, some of those need to be provided in order for them to have more to go on than simply “the building.”

The other side of the coin is providing too many details when it isn’t relevant to the story. I tend to go this direction. I add in details that I find interesting that not all of my readers do. Then again, some of them like it just the way it is, so it’s a balancing act. You can chose to make some of the people happy or none of them. Making everyone happy is impossible. Someone will always find fault with something. So, find the balance that makes you, and hopefully your readers, happy. Put in the details you want in there, describing the things you find important to the story. After all, it’s your vision you’re describing. Just take a moment to consider if you’re providing enough details for your audience to see the picture you’re painting.

I’ve seen some writers who could spend four pages describing a table. By the end of those pages, you’ll know where it was built, what color stain was applied, who has owned it over the years and how it ended up where it is at that exact moment. The thing is, do you really need to go into that level of detail? Is it necessary to the telling of the story or did you put it there to flesh out a chapter? Only you can answer that question with any degree of certainty, but you have to be honest with yourself.

Details are the mortar that hold the bricks of your story together. Not enough details can leave your reader confused while too many can turn them off entirely. It’s really quite the balancing act that you have to walk, as a writer. A good editor can catch these instances and point them out to you, even if you hadn’t realized what you had done. They can highlight an area and ask for clarification or caution you that you put in too much detail. Editors offer much more than merely fixing grammar and syntax. They can make or break a story.

Choosing the wrong words can do much more harm than good. No one wants to be the guy that says we’re seeing too much bird deification when the word you wanted to use was defecation. A well-planned courtroom scene can be ruined when you meant to say the subject was found “incompetent to stand trial” but use the word “incontinent” instead. Or maybe they say that the district attorney is waiting on the results of the coroner’s incest instead of inquest. You laugh, but I know someone that made those exact mistakes. I, along with a couple of friends (Nate and Brian), gave him a thesaurus for Christmas that year. Of course, we did it anonymously.

All joking aside, the words you choose not only paint the images in your story, they reflect on you as well. So, choose wisely. The goal is to provide the best possible reading experience for your audience so that they want to come back and read your work, again and again. As a writer, words are your stock in trade. Your paintbrush on the canvas. What you say is just as important as how you say it and the words you use. Take the time to invest in your craft and constantly strive to be better than you were yesterday. It will pay off in the greatest of dividends…happy readers.

The words you write become the sentence which becomes the paragraph, which turns into a chapter and so on. Build those stories on the best possible foundation. You can study your craft not only through taking classes but in every book you read. Each book, story and poem is research for your own writing. We gain knowledge of our craft by observing how others have done it, before us. Study your craft and keep learning more about it as you grow. Learning something new every day is not difficult. You just have to always be on the lookout for ways to improve and grow as a writer. I try to learn something each time I sit down at the keyboard.

Enjoy the process and keep reaching for the stars. Choose your words to paint the best possible pictures for your readers. Remember, sometimes what you say is just as important as what you don’t say. Both can speak volumes, even more so than you realize. Choose wisely.


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