As great writer, Stephen King, once said, “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
But where exactly are those lines? What is the reader’s job, and what is the writer’s? It’s high time to examine it!
If you’ve ever written anything you’ve probably heard the age-old advice “Show, don’t tell.” And if you’re a reader, you can probably relate to how frustrating it is when you come across a poorly constructed sentence that offers absolutely no descriptions for your imagination to run off of. The same can be said for those tedious books that describe absolutely everything and leave no room for the reader’s unique imagination to chime in on the story. How do we fix this? How do writers know how much to give and how much to hide. And how do readers know how much is enough and not critique too harshly? Well, it is of course a matter of personal taste and preference, but let’s examine a few basics, shall we?
Here’s a couple things to keep in mind:
“Show, don’t tell.” Does not mean to use excessive run-on sentences, three paragraphs, and fifteen different adjectives to describe one characteristic. It means, show – through actions – in a few short sentences strung together, maxing two paragraphs for three or four characteristics. This is the basic formula and general guideline to the perfect combination for writer’s image and reader’s imagination.
Here’s just a basic example:
“Bored in her room, and too wet outside to play, brat of a kid, Alexis, pouted on her bed.”
This is bland. This tells us what is happening, but it’s boring… plain… simple… and gives the reader WAY too much room for imagination to what it is she’s doing as she’s bored, or how she pouts, so therefore the reader doesn’t really imagine anything. It is the writer’s job to provoke the reader’s imagination and creativity, and this sentence just isn’t cutting it.
Try this instead:
“Drip. Drip. Drip. An audible sigh escaped Alexis’s lips as she heaved herself to an upright position on her bed. Her softball cleats slumped in a collapsed heap of sports-gear in the corner of her room. Drip. Drip. Drip. Her eyes followed the sad little raindrop trailing down her window as her own raindrop trailed down her cheek. Drip. Drip. Drip, onto her pillow. She crossed her arms, huffing a breath of pure frustration out to the empty room. How dare it rain on the day of the biggest game of the year. How dare her parents not even care; just leaving her all by her lonesome in her bedroom. Drip. Drip. Drip.”
Now, let’s see what that covered. Readers curiosity right off the bat: what’s the drip? It’s answered later, but the curiosity is necessary to keep the interest. Sighing signifies disappointment, followed by “heaving” which signifies sluggishness. By bringing the cleats into the mix we give a reason why Alexis would want to go outside, then we prove bratty personality by crying, crossing her arms, and huffing, then of course with a few of her own thoughts of “how dare”.
However, we left plenty for the reader to mull over, including: What Alexis looks like, how old she is, where she is, what will happen, they can assume and create a little more about her personality and other such things. All of which the writer – at some point – should address assuming this would be turned into a full-length story. But for now, let’s leave it at all.
Source for Stephen King Quote: GoodReads.com