I find it increasingly odd that the best writing lessons I’m getting are coming from my 3 yr old daughter. First she reminded me how important it is to think outside the box and explore different uses for things. Now, the one trait that drives every parent batty is actually helping me dig deeper to find meaningful characters and a fully developed story.
See, I have this problem, it usually happens when I’m talking, but I find that it comes through in my writing as well. The problem is I omit details. It mainly occurs when I’m in a group setting and everyone is talking over one another. However, I’m noticing that I do it when I’m just talking one on one with another person. Its like I’m so afraid I’m going to get cut off (which may have something to do with always being interrupted by a child with a bladder the size of a pea) that I just rush through the details to get to the punch line. Hey, look at that. The sentence in the parenthesis could be taken as an interruption. See? I even interrupt myself.
I was reading some work I did awhile back and I found myself asking the same question over and over again. I didn’t even realize that I started to mutter the question to myself because I was so focused on details that were left out leaving the dialogue bare and boring. It wasn’t until I almost screamed the question and my daughter replied, “I don’t know, Mommy, why?” that I realized I was talking to myself.
Can you guess what my question was?
It was, “WHY?”
Yep, every parent’s nightmare is actually helping me create clearer characters and storyline. I found that I was just assuming the audience knew the background like I did, that they had the same intimate knowledge of the characters. I was rushing scenes to get to the next one when I should have stopped and made sure that I explained what needed to be explained, especially when it came to the character’s actions.
For instance, I started asking, “why would the character go to pick up her drunk sister from a frat party when she vowed never to help her again?” There was a reason, of course, but I just sort of skimmed over her rationalization and went on to the next scene where there was some action.
I’ve always had this problem. I found old papers from a creative writing course that I took in college and most of them were marked with “explain this” or the all powerful “why?”
However, my 3 yr old’s lesson doesn’t end there. Oh no. She is her father’s daughter and before she even started asking the question “why?” she asked another one. One that she still asks more than “why” and every time I hear it I cringe.
She likes to ask “how?”
I was jealous of all the other mother’s that could answer their children’s question of “why?” with “because I said so.” I get “how?” and half of the time I really don’t know how things work. For example, here is a conversation that happened just last week:
ME: “Come on, we’re going to Grammy’s.”
HER: “How Mommy?”
ME: “By getting into the car and driving there.”
HER: “But how?”
ME: “Um. By turning on the car and driving?”
HER: “How does the car go?”
ME: “With gas.”
HER: “But how?”
ME: “….because I said so.”
Do you see what I’m dealing with? However, I’m learning to use those questions when I look over my work. I’m also realizing by asking those questions I’m finding other ways, sometimes more creative or interesting ways of explaining things. Instead of just saying a character is making a sandwich to eat, I can add details and maybe even get a way to sneak in some character traits, or history to make the making of a sandwich have some significance.
Maybe he’s making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and when he opens the jar of peanut butter the salty smell reminds him of cool fall days when his mother used to make him this exact sandwich to eat as an after school snack while he worked on his homework. It brings back feelings of security, of belonging, nothing like he’s feeling now.
Now, that’s not to say that every entry needs to be detailed and wordy, but in my work, I know that there are sections that need to be fleshed out to help the story move on. So, for me, asking “how” and “why” helps me do that.
Do you have my problem of omitting details? Or do you have the opposite problem, do you find yourself with too many words and details? That instead of having to add words during editing, you’re taking more away?