Let’s say you have a character who is hungry. You decide to show the reader that he’s hungry by having him stare into a baker’s window looking at all the lovely cakes.
So he’s drooling, stomach rumbling and all these delicious cakes, which you describe in great detail, are just out of his reach.
You ask yourself, does what I’ve written convey my intention? And if you think it does, then that’s that.
But when other people read what you’ve written, they may not like it. They may say, yes, he’s hungry, but so what? It’s a lot of lovely cake description, but I know what a cake looks like. Yes his need for food is apparent, I get it. But why are you telling me?
And at that point you look back at the story and you ask yourself, why did I want the reader to know my character is hungry?
Because the decision to portray a particular element to the reader is only a small part of the writing process. Much more important is why you think the reader needs to know this. It can be tempting to assume the thoughts that occur to you wouldn’t have popped into your head if they didn’t have a reason to be there. That you don’t need to know what those reasons are, you’re just the conduit.
Which would be fine if those thoughts really did all fall into place without your involvement, but that’s rarely the case.
If I have the same hungry man steal a loaf of bread and that leads to him being chased by a singing French policeman (for example), does the stealing of the bread show him to be more or less hungry than him staring at cakes? I would say there is no obvious difference in that regard. Both show his desire for food.
But taking the bread leads to a series of events. Standing, looking, drooling, doesn’t.
What a scene does in isolation is only of use if you’re writing about a singular event. But a story is not about one moment. It is not a series of unrelated events. And it’s the writer’s job to work out the connections and connect them.
And while the poetic side of you might want to express itself through beautifully written description of dark, rich chocolate swirls that both capture the bitter desires of a man who hasn’t eaten for days and the decadence of the society in which he lives, that isn’t enough. Where do you want to go with that feeling?
Only when you know that can you look at what you’ve written and ask yourself: does this truly convey my intention? And while that answer may be a little more difficult to work out, it will also be a much better indication of whether what you’ve written will be worth reading.
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