Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's So Great About A Writer Being Invisible?

You should think about being invisible when you write, really you should. 
Immediately I hear the distant wails," I don’t want to be invisible! I want to show my own distinctive style, I want to be a really GREAT WRITER and entertain my readers! I want the world to praise ME!"

Well you can go that route, no invisibility for you! But if you do take that course you may miss out on creating the really great story you intend while you’re obsessing with being a ‘great writer.’ The wise writer’s focus is more on clear, crisp sentences that creates pictures for your readers, phrases that evoke emotion, words that touch an empathetic place. So if you've thought about it a moment and have decided you want to try out this "be invisible" thing and have your work take center stage, gather your patience, thoughtfulness, empathy and direction and read on.

First, move your focus away from yourself and what you expect to accomplish, think about your reader and what he or she hopes to get out of your book. How do you get them to that place where they suspend their disbelief and dive head-first into your story, wrapped in the conflicts you’ve created, the worlds you’ve painted and the characters who inhabit them? How to get them to forget about you, become unaware of you until you are really no longer visible and your story and characters are all they perceive?

For starters think about what you learned in your English classes and your Composition classes, then recognize you have to unlearn a great deal of it. As a writer you don’t need to throw your impressive vocabulary in your reader’s faces. Keeping it simple and clear is better. Try not to use alliteration often. Don’t write long, complicated sentences. 19th Century novelists did it, it’s past, get over it. Your goal is not to fill up many pages to pile on long descriptive passages. All of this just serves to put the writer (you) center stage and that’s not really a good place to be.

Don’t stop your reader with a particularly long sentence, detailed phrase or a word they need to run to a dictionary to understand. Mark Twain would slap you, so would Hemingway, and unless I miss my guess, Stephen King as well. Use familiar words and make them count. Instead of vague phrases like “the librarian walked slowly down the aisle with a painful limp,” think more colorfully and concisely. How about, “the librarian hitched her way down the aisle, cane thumping in hollow rhythm.”? Don’t have a character of yours simply ‘eat’, when he or she can, ‘gulp, crunch, slurp or inhale’ the food. And learn to trust your gut instinct and depend on the context of your story. There are times when a more ‘fancy’ word is better. Just don’t constantly search your thesaurus for a replacement for that straight-forward word you began with.

Don’t jerk your reader out of our story with too many things like exclamation marks. This really does just point to the writer as being a bit too lazy to make the sentence exciting enough to get the reader’s attention without punctuation. Or perhaps the writer is just too inexperienced. Either way is not good. Use words to build that excitement, not marks on paper at the end of a sentence. Practice, you can do it.

Beware figures of speech. When you use one you momentarily pull your reader out of the story to consider what you’ve put forth. Forget old, boring ones you’ve heard forever like ‘a stitch in time…’ They don’t belong in your writing or mine at all. If you’re creative enough you may well come up with delightful ones on your own. If you need to, use an old, boring one as a place holder and highlight it in your writing, then come back later and replace it with something sparkling, and new. Something like “I felt like Van Gogh’s ear,” or “the water was cold, almost frozen, swimming through it was like dog-paddling cold oatmeal.” Plainly you can do better – so please do.

Lastly, for the moment, don’t make mistakes in your writing. Your readers pay attention and you’ll hear from them. If you use real places, spell the name correctly. Writing a western (I’ve written a number of them) remember a shotgun doesn’t shoot bullets, it shoots pellets. Chicago is not in Florida. Double-check and then check again. Don’t let this jerk your reader out of the reader’s trance you work so hard to create.

Always remember, it's not about you, it's about your reader.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really great post, Peggy. I think it's easy to fall in love with what we perceive to be a brilliant turn of phrase, only to find that an editor has red-lined it because it disrupts the reading experience.

    I would add to this that it is still possible for one to write with a unique voice even when ensuring the prose is tight and readable. It's little things, like sentence structure, word choice, paragraph framing. You see it with great writers, where you KNOW its their language but aren't sure why. I think you make that point at times here, I just wanted to reiterate it. :)


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