We recently bought a new TV. And it’s great. It is. However, I’ve noticed something that feels a little strange and I’ve finally put my finger on it. There’s almost too much detail. There are times I click it on and I feel like the actors are hanging out in my living room. It’s taken me a while to adjust. I’ve gleaned something else from this new TV watching experience and it’s mildly off-putting.
The screen doesn’t leave any room for my imagination to kick in. All the pixels and minute details are filled in for me.
This happens in books, too.
I read a cool quote the other day that touches upon this exact point. Annie Proulx emphasizes, “I think it’s important to leave spaces in a story for readers to fill in from their own experience.”
I wholeheartedly agree. An adept novelist gifts the reader with their own reading experience. The act of writing for me is an intensely personal exploration. The act of publishing is a sacrificial process of letting go. Why letting go? Because it’s up to the reader to fill in the gaps, to filter in their own life experiences as they read. The story ultimately becomes theirs to interpret.
The following are indicators an author has neglected to leave enough space for the reader.
Too Many Details
Like my TV, the author has inundated the reader with a litany of details. Every unnecessary one inserted in the story slowly robs the reader of identifying with the plot and/or characters. Details should be chosen wisely. Use them, absolutely. Details can do wonders to bring a book to life. However, make sure not to pixelate the reader to death.
If you’ve read my blog before, you probably know I’m not a huge fan of math. It shouldn’t surprise you then that I also don’t love formulaic writing. It’s another imagination stealer. Plot your heart out. Know where your story is headed, but don’t color-by-number your writing. It limits all that your story can become, at the same time as dulling down the impact for the reader.
Pretty Little Bow Writing
I’m all for an uplifting or satisfying ending that provides resolve for the reader. I think an author does a reader a disservice when they insert a tidy, clean ending or plot path, assuming that’s the only way to do things. Life is muddy. I’m not suggesting authors need to royally screw up the lives of all their characters (although that certainly can help strengthen a plotline). I am suggesting an author will seriously want to consider their motivation for making things pretty. If it’s too pretty and spotless, readers will struggle to identify. Imagination will suffer.
No Room for Reflection
Even in the best suspense novels (especially in the best suspense novels) authors find a way to allow the reader to digest what’s going on. They play with pacing so the reader has a moment to reflect upon what the main character is going through—they’re given an opportunity to really feel it. To empathize. That is the crux of good writing. Nuanced pacing. It’s writer’s gold.
Don’t resolve problems too quickly. Let suspense grow yeast-like in the reader’s mind. Give them time to make guesses, to fret, to become more invested in the story. If an author doles out rapid fire solutions the story loses its ability to root inside the reader’s minds. Connection is lost.
I love a realistic, gripping story, but not at the sake of sacrificed imagination. I still want to read and wonder. I want my own memories and moments to fold into the stories I’m reading. It’s difficult for this to occur when an author has unintentionally impeded a story from strumming imagination. Sometimes, as authors, we’re so obsessed with making things communicate as real, we forget to leave space for the reader. It’s worth paying attention to. Your readers will thank you.