I recently met with my book club for writerly types, where we’re reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Confession, I hadn’t actually done the reading, but as I was flipping through the chapter and seeing highlights I’d made my first time through the book, I was reminded of some of my aha! moments.
Leave Room for the Reader.
Readers are smart (even/especially young readers). One of the worst mistakes you can make is to underestimate their intelligence. Not only will they be annoyed, but they’ll also get bored. To engage readers, you need to give them an active role in the story. Make them work for it. What’s the point of reading a story if you’re not going to be inspired/changed/horrified/heartbroken by the end of it? And it’s really hard to be any of those things if the writer has simply told you everything that happens without forcing you make any leaps and bounds along the way.*
Consider Developing Characters Intuitively.
If you define everything about a character at the outset of a story, you are setting boundaries that both you and your readers can’t go beyond. However, if you introduce your characters gradually, and get to know them intuitively, there’s no limit to where your characters could go. By not drafting reams of character sketches ahead of time, you’re allowing your characters to direct the story and you’re also leaving room for the reader. As your characters develop little by little, each reader will interpret their actions in a unique way, adding more depth than you could have achieved on your own.
This goes back to something I used to think about a lot. When I first started writing, I would always wonder how writers wrap their heads around fully fleshed-out stories that capture all of the mystery and emotion of human experience and then put them down on the page. Then I realized, they don’t. Writers only do half the job. The rest is up to the reader.
*Btw, sorry for all the slashes 😛
I totally get the second point. I develop EVERYTHING ahead of time (I’m definitely a planner), including characters. But sometimes I feel that it’s easy for me to get stuck with them because I don’t have the wiggle room I might need to let the characters really develop.
i tend to write organically rather than to plan things ahead, but this method of writing brings with it a lot of fear – fear of not knowing where on earth you’re going and just hoping it all works out in the end. anyway, i wrote a post about this a few weeks ago. have a look and tell me what you think.