The next time you’re engrossed in a novel, stop and ask yourself this question. What’s the most exciting part of the story? You might be surprised that the most exciting part isn’t there. At least, you can’t see it. The most exciting part often doesn’t appear in print because it’s not what the author wrote that grips you; it’s what he didn’t write.
I’ve noticed this every time I read a novel. What’s happening with the main character in my head is often the most exciting part. The author creatively and conveniently writes between the lines and the reader fills in the blanks with the power of his imagination. The author simply has to give the reader enough information and room to breathe. Easier said than done.
As you know, the tendency is to say too much, to fill in all the blanks. To leave nothing to chance. To be sure the reader sees exactly what you want him to see. As writers, we over compensate with a level of detail that stifles the contribution of what’s happening in the mind’s eye of the reader. The writer does too much of the work instead of letting the reader’s imagination assist him.
John Truby, author of The Anatomy of Story, 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, says it best in his book by the same title. I got lost in this book by one of most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry. The book was a recent gift from my son, David, an up and coming writer in his own right.
Truby says, “Withholding, or hiding, information is crucial to the storyteller’s make-believe. It forces the audience to figure out who the character is and what he is doing and so draws the audience into the story. When the audience no longer has to figure out the story, it ceases being an audience, and the story stops.
“Audiences love both the feeling part (reliving the life) and the thinking part (figuring out the puzzle) of a story. Every good story has both.”
Does your novel or short story have both a feeling part and a thinking part? Does your reader connect with your central characters by reliving part of their life? Does the reader wonder what they would do in your characters’ situation?
Do you give them the space they need to actively engage in the thinking part? Are they figuring out how they would escape before your protagonist does? Are your readers contemplating how to defeat the antagonist before you defeat him? Are you giving your audience something to do by engaging them in the story?
The next time you pick up a novel, pay attention to the way the storyteller both reveals and hides information from you. Notice how the unknown and the unsaid enrich the story.
And when your novel gets published and you have the privilege to talk to your readers about it, don’t be surprised if the part they like best is the part that you, well, didn’t write.
The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.
Blog entries are posted on Thursday.
You may contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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