13 votes

My problem with writing

Tags: writing

You know what my problem is? When I was young, and I got into a game, book, or any kind of series, I eventually found myself spending hours on a wiki, reading manuals, books, and Internet posts, watching videos, trying to discover every last detail about the subject that I could find. I still distinctly remember reading about the Celestials from Star Wars, the Forerunners and the Precursors from Halo, or the distant continents of Akivir and others in Elder Scrolls.

My problem is that I've always had this thirst to read about the worlds that I am interested in and to consume every last bit of knowledge about them.

As a writer, or rather, when I try to write something, I far too often just have the urge to explain everything so the reader doesn't need to go to a wiki or watch a video to get the extra context. This means that, because of the way I engaged (and still engage) with worlds, I have a very hard time letting go of all the details and just letting what I write lead the reader's imagination into something of their own making.

I shouldn't need, want, or try to explain that these aliens are strange and mysterious. The dialogue, thoughts, and actions of characters familiar to us should illustrate that just fine on their own.

And that's it. That's exactly what I have trouble with. I struggle to communicate indirectly, to lead readers to a conclusion instead of plainly telling it to them.

Oh god, I've done it again.

10 comments

  1. MimicSquid
    Link
    Based on the existence of a punchline I'm not sure if this is entirely a joke. If it's not, I'm put in mind of something that Monte Cook wrote in the Numenera Corebook. While he was talking about...

    Based on the existence of a punchline I'm not sure if this is entirely a joke. If it's not, I'm put in mind of something that Monte Cook wrote in the Numenera Corebook. While he was talking about a GM describing weird things to PC's, I think the gist is as relevant to authors:

    DESCRIBING A WEIRD WORLD
    The Ninth World is a weird place, and describing
    it can be difficult. When possible, stress the weird
    aspect of your description. For example, don’t bother
    telling the PCs all about the normal buildings in the
    city if the central tower is a double helix supporting a
    glowing ball of energy like a miniature sun.
    Although precision is a good thing, pedantic,
    exhaustive detail is not. Even if that’s what is needed
    to fully describe the weird creature, character, device,
    structure, or phenomenon, don’t do it. Leave the
    players with an impression rather than an exact
    description. “A creature that looks like three black
    beetles, each the size of a mastiff with too many
    legs and eyes” isn’t a full description, but it’s an
    impression. It gives the players something to picture,
    even if it’s not precisely what you’re picturing. It’s
    weird and evocative, and that’s important.
    Be wary of shorthand description and inappropriate
    comparisons. If the PCs see a vehicle flying through
    the air toward them and you describe it as “sort of like
    a flying car,” they’re going to see a flying 21st-century
    sedan with tires, a steering wheel, and bumpers,
    and that’s not the image you want in their heads.
    Instead, try to give them the gist of the vehicle. Saying
    something like “A large, dark mass—sharply angled
    and full of strange protrusions from all directions—
    suddenly rumbles toward you through the sky,
    blocking out the sun” puts a more evocative and weird
    image in the players’ minds. It’s better to be vague
    than incorrect or, worse, jarringly inappropriate.
    If you must, use 21st-century terms or
    comparisons to describe things, but introduce them
    sparingly because they can break the mood very
    easily.

    There's a whole lot more to it, but that concept of providing only enough description to give the reader's imagination something to hook on to has always stuck with me.

    13 votes
  2. [5]
    ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    Much as I would like to agree with @borja's point, my experience tells me it isn't applicable here. Choose what to tell isn't about who you're writing for. Editing your text takes concern not with...

    Much as I would like to agree with @borja's point, my experience tells me it isn't applicable here.

    Choose what to tell isn't about who you're writing for. Editing your text takes concern not with who will read, but with what is important to the story. Every single writer with experience worth a damn told me to cut out the fat: remove the parts that aren't necessary to tell the story.

    I rebelled against the notion at first, thinking that all the details matter. It seemed a waste to let go of the perfectly-coherent, descriptive details about a world or a character that I love so much. But the more I thought about it... Consider this: given that the story doesn't reflect your specific desire that I seek to fulfill, would you rather read an objectively-told story or something that goes obsessively into detail about a single character – describing the length of their eyelashes, and every speck of dirt on the hem of their skirt – because the author is in love with that character?

    This is editing vs. leaving it on-paper. You needn't sacrifice your love for the work you do, but the story must go on – and if you're the only one along for the ride, you'll also be the only one eager to read it.

    And – look. I have a cinematographic imagination. I can't stand how most of the books are written: dull, lacking in the detail that my mind is assumed to fulfill but very much doesn't because I have zero evidence to rely on. "He went to the counter" – well, fuck, did he do so eagerly? was he slouched when he did that? was he looking around with that sort of anxious look that says "I feel like anyone could attack me"? You can tell a story that much deeper by including the things most writers seem to consider irrelevant, superficial.

    That is what you should choose to let lay on the page: the things that make the story better. Leave in the details that say "There's a bigger story here" because that's what makes the reader consider the world richer, the characters deeper, and the plot more exciting: because then they get to live in a world that approaches their own in volume, and diversity, and the kind of childhood wonder that pushes you to explore out of sheer curiosity.

    The rest, by comparison, will feel like padding. You don't want to make your reader plow through the boring bits to get to the juice.

    5 votes
    1. [4]
      borja
      Link Parent
      I totally agree with you on making the story better. I guess it depends on the genre and format. We can't generalize, but I have the feeling that your advice fits more into the fiction category,...

      I totally agree with you on making the story better.

      I guess it depends on the genre and format. We can't generalize, but I have the feeling that your advice fits more into the fiction category, and what I wrote below fits more into the non-fiction category. Either way, different things work for different people. It's one's job to figure out what works best for the story itself.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        What would be an example of a genre and/or format where the more exposition there is, the better?

        I guess it depends on the genre and format.

        What would be an example of a genre and/or format where the more exposition there is, the better?

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          Staross
          Link Parent
          Slice of life, or impressionist-moody-documentary type of things.

          Slice of life, or impressionist-moody-documentary type of things.

          1. ThatFanficGuy
            Link Parent
            I don't think slice of life benefits from excessive exposition. The beauty of slice-of-life stories is in exposing someone else's living, and you have to have a certain median quantity of it for...

            I don't think slice of life benefits from excessive exposition. The beauty of slice-of-life stories is in exposing someone else's living, and you have to have a certain median quantity of it for the story to be of interest – but it doesn't grow more interesting the more detail there is in storytelling.

            I would argue that it follows the same pattern that I've described in the original comment. If there's unnecessary delving into detail that doesn't concern the story, it will get dull and diluted, and the observer will grow tired.

            I don't think slice-of-life stories grow more interesting the more they tell – which is what I asked about.

  3. borja
    Link
    Nothing is for everyone. And you don't want everyone. You want the right someone. So identify who that someone is, and write for him or her. I believe that whenever you're doing something creative...

    Nothing is for everyone. And you don't want everyone. You want the right someone.

    So identify who that someone is, and write for him or her.

    I believe that whenever you're doing something creative (and this is particularly true for writing), before you do anything else you should consider who you're targeting. Avoid the masses. They don't care about you. Instead, focus on a small group of people and do the work for them.

    That's the only way to create something that resonates.

    So think about your ideal reader. Maybe you know someone personally who could be your target. Try to see the world the way that person sees it, and then write for that person. That way you know what you should include and what you should discard.

    I hope it helps... Good luck!

    3 votes
  4. mieum
    Link
    I have read and edited stories for friends who have dealt with this problem in their own ways. Don't give up! The fact that you realize this means that you are able to now sharpen your tools and...

    I have read and edited stories for friends who have dealt with this problem in their own ways.

    Don't give up! The fact that you realize this means that you are able to now sharpen your tools and refine your technique. The important thing is to keep writing.

    One piece of advice that I will give is this: don't be afraid to experiment. Try writing short sketches about a minor character's backstory, or some unrelated episode that occurs in some part of that story's universe. Try various styles and formats. Write poems! Write about something you would never typically write about. You can use music as an analogy. A musician doesn't master his craft by trying to write that one masterpiece song or album. The only way he can learn to play and write is by listening to AND playing lots of different songs and styles. You have nothing to lose! Enjoy it =]

    (Also, don't be afraid to edit and break things in order to build something new and beautiful from them.)

    3 votes
  5. Wolf
    Link
    I understand your frustration. I have been through this too. But I sympathize for your type of reader - the type that wants to know every detail. There could be a way to cut out the fat and put in...

    I understand your frustration. I have been through this too. But I sympathize for your type of reader - the type that wants to know every detail. There could be a way to cut out the fat and put in all the details you want.

    You could just separate the details in a 'field notes' part of the book towards the end, and edit all the details out from the main story. I know it's not exactly what you are going for, but I could definitely see a lot of fantasy/sci-fi readers appreciating it (I'm assuming that is the genre you are writing for, correct me if I am wrong).

    3 votes
  6. Mulligan
    Link
    Look up Gene Wolfe. I highly recommend the Shadow of the Torturer. He has a talent for limiting information. The reader is only allowed glimpses of the world through the perspective of the...

    Look up Gene Wolfe. I highly recommend the Shadow of the Torturer. He has a talent for limiting information. The reader is only allowed glimpses of the world through the perspective of the narrator. In addition there's a subtext that the narrator may be unreliable and at times outright lying to the reader.

    2 votes