Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Writing That Works For Others

I've been re-writing a love scene recently.  I thought it was fine, but my workshop group all turned up their noses at it.  They didn't find him charming, and thought she came across as naive at best, a fool at worst.  I stared at the scene, trying to see it through their eyes.  Which I could do, hence the re-write.  But I know at the time of writing I was so caught up in the excitement of the moment I saw only what I wanted to see, not what I'd actually written.

It's a situation that crops up a lot of the time.  Someone writes a scene that they can fully imagine.  It's utterly clear to them, you can see on their faces that they don't get why it isn't equally clear to you.  'But it's there,' they say, tapping the manuscript.

We peer at the manuscript together. Um, no it isn't.

The other tactic is to claim that it's between the lines.  'I don't want to spell it out for the reader,' they say.  'I like sparse writing.'

Fine - up to a point.  I have read manuscripts that have avoided stating things that really shouldn't be mysteries.  If the scene is about, say, a confession by one character to another, then there's no purpose achieved in making the reader worry about whether the scene takes place in a train or a moving car.   Why not say where the characters are?  By all means be subtle about the confession, and its implications, but the location?  Why choose that?

We as writers have to be aware that the reader only has our words to create the scenes we want to scroll across their imaginations.  They want to do some work - work which is genuinely spelled out makes for very dull reading - but they don't want to have to second guess their way through the whole thing.  Sometimes spades need to be called spades if it's to work for someone else.


Shauna said...

I've been on both sides of that particular fence, and that's why I find writing groups so helpful.

Sometimes all it takes is one person pointing out where something isn't clear, to help you realise what needs to be added or tweaked.

Sarah Duncan said...

I think writing groups are very useful, and as you say it only takes one person.