I’m so glad Teresa picked this topic. And that she made mention of it being for the next “few weeks,” as there is far to much to cover this topic in one discussion. Nor do we want to short change you on the depths to which we all struggle with this issue (*I’m referring to Teresa’s most recent post entitled, “Details, Details, Details”).
First off, I’ll re-enforce Teresa’s first piece of advice which is the same one I give to all writers who ask me where to start. And I can’t say it any better so I’ll quote her:
“…Write the blasted thing.”
So many times we cut ourselves at the knees before the starter pistol ever fires. We don’t give our brains, or our fingers, the opportunity to start expressing what’s inside. Read all of Teresa’s great comments so I don’t need to re-write them.
When I go back through on that second read through I try and “Read It Ignorant.” Obviously, this can be a bit tricky as I’m familiar with the world, or space, or circumstance I wrote originally. But that’s why you give it some time. I read it through as if I had never read it before. Suddenly things that seem obvious I can remove (like exactly how to build a fire when just saying, “And he built a fire,” would do), and things that I’m left wondering about in a character’s description (like their eye color), are no where to be found.
I suppose the “skill” that I’ve tried to work on, and it is just that, is painting the picture for my audience. I use the word skill because it has taken me time to develop and I’m still far from perfect. I suppose it’s in that regard that “practice” does take it’s place. But I also used another tool to help me.
I began giving my work to friends and family and asking them to be honest; that I wouldn’t take it personally. That helped me grow immensely.
As writers, we sometime make the mistake of having a pitty-party. We get discouraged about something and then trash it. BAD IDEA! You’ll never grow that way. I’ve learned not to trash anything. Ever. It’s true. Sure, maybe I’ll never read it again, but I never entertain my “false humility” by throwing a pitty-party and being dramatic. When I just go and do something rash, I pass judgement on my work and myself for that matter and never face the problems that I need to fix. Instead, I let the criticism challenge me and the art I made. I’ll make the changes, or at least note what the feedback is saying, and then move on.
It’s amazing because many times we can give too much detail. I remember one of the first drafts of Rise of The Dibor (long before it had a title), I had a reader express to me that I didn’t leave them enough room to imagine anything about a castle I was describing. Dah! First I was trying to give people a better understanding of what I was seeing, now I’m telling them too much?
It was enough to drive me mad.
But instead of throwing a pitty-party and getting upset, I accepted the challenge and I let the criticism “pass through my own filter” of sorts. Many times we are swayed too much by just one persons’ opinion. I’ve learned there are certain people who’s ideas I really trust, and others–well, not so much. But in the end, I have to go to bed at night. I have to live with it.
I went back and took out a bunch of things about the castle. But then I added a few and streamlined some others. In the end, I got a pretty decent description of what was to be Adriel Palace.
One exercise that I do almost on a daily basis, if not on paper at least mentally, has helped me a great deal with my attention to detail, and that’s it; I go through my day noticing details. Sitting at the airport I’ll look across the room and ask myself what makes me notice that person? What is it about them that I would remember in a week? Surely I don’t actually register every detail of their appearance or character, but there are certain things which may strike me as funny, odd, or memorable. He talked with a lisp. She never took her iPod out of her ears. He never let go of his briefcase. Her hair was a wreck. He yelled at his kids. She never even sipped her coffee and I thought it was more of an accessory than a drink.
We don’t need to give the reader EVERY detail, just the ones that matter. And what ones matter? The ones you remember. They’ll remember them, too.
I need to go now…our meeting with our Teen & College students starts very soon. TIme to put on the Youth Pastor hat now! It’s always a pleasure writing to you! I look forward to reading what the others have to say and continuing this great topic!
Thanks for reading!