Or… To think or be told what to think, that is the question…

This was kicked off by a lunch with a friend and his granddaughter, aged 17. We were talking about writing and music, and I asked her if she listened to music. She’d said she watched the videos first, then put the music on her playlist. I asked her why, and her answer surprised me. She said she ‘had’ to watch the video to see how the music was supposed to be interpreted!

Now I’m an old fart, I grew up listening to baseball and football on the radio, using my imagination and the word pictures presented by the announcers to ‘fill’ the scene in. Same with music, the lyrics ‘built’ the world the music was celebrating.

Where am I going with this?

In writing, do you paint extensive word pictures of your characters, the scenes, or the environment? Or do you give a basic word picture and expect the reader to fill in those gaps with their own imagination?

As always, I don’t think there is one ‘right’ answer, but in large, I think it depends on your readership. Are they used to being spoon fed everything? Or do you make them use their own imagination?

I know I tend to write sparse scenes and descriptions, knowing my readers will fill in the blanks with their imagination, which sometimes makes for interesting situations… I once had to change a scene because one of my beta readers was rather vehement that the particular character DID NOT have a moustache! Oops… My bad…

Two examples-

  1. Danny looked out the viewport and saw the star filled darkness staring back at him. He stepped away, shaking his head and pondering the frailness of man against the vastness of space.

2. Danny looked out the viewport of the space ship, seeing a panoply of stars twinkling in the blackness of space, and shivered as he pondered the frailty of man and hubris of travelling through the vastness of space.

I would tend to use the first. Less detailed example, letting the reader determine the ‘depth’ of Danny’s feelings and what other thoughts he had, screened through the lens of those reader’s experiences. That also gives them ‘ownership’ if you will, of the story.

I’ve been told I’m more of a story teller than a writer, and I’m perfectly happy with that. I try to give the reader a good story without pushing any particular agenda, but I also don’t like the ‘perfect character’ that never makes a mistake (either male or female). I also try to give the characters depth without doing a data dump on them, which doesn’t always work, as my readers have pointed out a time or three… sigh…

I also try to write so that you also have believable characters,  believable situations, and believable weapons.

I also try to get the little details right, even if it’s science fiction. It’s not hard to do basic research, and that can make a difference between a wall book and one folks will read, and maybe even read again.

But writing westerns is kicking my butt on research. And there are some rat holes that you can go down literally for HOURS! Of course, when you’re doing research, you’re not writing…

Anyway, a little bit of background on why I write like I do… For better or worse…






Imagination… — 23 Comments

  1. You have the talent, and know if it feels right, it will be right. Some may try to detract from your style, but like wine, their tastes are only an opinion, and many will like what they don’t.

  2. Thanks for describing part of the process of how you write your stories. I don’t have a vivid imagination so any stories I wrote would be boring as hell. As if Joe Friday “Just the facts ma’am – just the facts” was the author. 🙂

  3. I like the storyteller approach and the sketched characters. Lets me fill in as much as I need from imagination, and keeps my brain flexible. Your data dumps don’t get excessive, more like periodically opening a locker and pulling out some needed gear. A lot of the reader comments and flags on work-in-progress seem to hit on missed connections or bubbles in the story, not on missing description, unless what’s missing was part of character or scene continuity.

    • I agree with what you wrote, and I couldn’t write it better than you already did.

  4. I like the first example better. And I tend to leave details sparse, unless there is some specific point to make. I find that I focus more on relationship and conversation rather than the setting.

  5. I prefer the Storyteller method. That is why I detest Dickens novels. His descriptions are so detailed due to the minds lack of imagination at the time that those of us who use our imagination to develop a ‘mind picture’ have to constantly revise our thoughts due to his precise descriptions. Drives me NUTS.

  6. First example is clear and concise. Second is fruity and sounds more like it’s written for Harlequin.

    Though there are times for fruity (meaning verbose and up-scale writing, yaknow, Dickens, Hawthorne, Dumas, Harlequin romances…)

    In the two instances, if Danny is the space jock from your space story, well, the first one really works, as that character (in my interpretation) wasn’t/isn’t a verbose and ‘upscale’ person.

    As to the 17yo… Yeah. A whole generation that’s been taught not to use their imagination. Sad.

  7. All- Thanks for the comments. And you’ve got to remember, all the ‘early’ writers, Dickens et al were paid a penny a word, so verbose WAS the rule of the day. The more words, the more pay! Now days, we’re apparently up to 6 cents a word… Progress???

    Posted from my iPhone.

  8. I’ve been told, “You write slow books.” Meaning that my stories have a lot of description and detail, which leads to slower pacing. I suspect it is from reading a lot of 1) older literature and 2) German. And from writing non-fiction, which demands description and back-story. None of that works with space opera. 🙂 Urban fantasy and some mil-sci-fi? Yeah, it fits.

  9. TXRed- That you do, but the stories you tell ARE ENTERTAINING! And that is the bottom line! And yes, with your background, that would be the expected way for you to write. 😉

  10. Of your examples, the first is excellently concise. The second has far too much useless detail allowing errors to creep in – twinkling stars in a vacuum? Thank you for the way you write.

  11. That 17yold would brainlock at a classical music concert. Only a small fraction is actually program music and tells a story.

  12. Hey Old NFO;

    I enjoy your writing style, it is concise yet tells what is necessary and you tell a good story, your style is determined by your storytelling, not your vocabulary.

  13. Yes to Number 1. Oh, PLEASE yes!! If the other appeared on page one I’d probably not get past page 10.

    I KNOW what a certain kitchen in a certain ranch house looks like. I know the table and chairs. You probably have a much different picture of it in your mind, as does every other reader, but the Grey Man’s kitchen looks like MY version. I know that because you took me there and let me roam around.

  14. Rick- And THAT is why you never see teens at one! 🙁

    Bob- Thanks!

    BobF- Exactly! THAT is what I want folks to do!

  15. #1. I’m often disappointed at movie renditions of novels.
    They don’t match my inner movie.
    But I have no problem with Dickens. I marvel at his descriptions.
    Pointing out things I might not have imagined, unfamiliar with the period.

    • I’m disapointed in an author spending his livelihood on this.
      If you want to sell out then get money for it..and say it is so.

      Hey look! I have a new book. Quick! use frienship on a bloggy or shoot to say you must plug me..


    Good writing is an easy tell.

    Now as for a blog for a writer that ends up spending more time shilling for his friends?
    That’s another.

    Every starting writer needs help but when the hell did you become someone who, when I click on, I have to read about your ‘recommendations’ or ‘needs’ help.
    stop it.

    Grik it to Rome and step to own your own.
    There are so many people who are readable.
    I read one to five books a day for G-d’s sake…and still manage to work.
    shorten it up my friend or they become domesticated and they ‘expect’.
    git me?

  17. All I’ve ever written is technical drivel, which I suppose is a bit like telling a story.

    The young lady is of the video generation. “Video Killed the Radio Star” and all that. It’s sad that she expressed it that way, leaving some doubt as to her imaginative and creative process abilities. It would have said so much more if she said she wanted to see how other people interpreted the work, but she didn’t.

  18. Hmmmmm.

    Less is more, I think, but reservedly so. Look at Dickens’ description of Seven Dials. Now that I’ve said that, his prose is entirely necessary, nothing wasted. I think!

    End of the day? Cut adjectives outtta the business.