The Little Things

There’s something to be said about subtlety and the ability to pick up on it. Just as in life, subtlety is an important asset in regards to anything you’re writing. Nothing was ever accomplished by giving everything away. Keeping your cards close to your chest is a weapon in writing. It keeps the reader hooked, on the edge of their seats, hungry for more. If you give the reader too much too fast, they lose interest and can quickly decide the story isn’t worth their time. It’s been said that the first chapter – the first pages of a book, are the most important for a reader. You want to offer the bait, get them to bite. However, you have to set the hook and reel them in as well, and that won’t happen if you tell the story before you actually tell the story. There are also times where details are unnecessary and only serve as fillers the reader isn’t interested in reading. Here’s an example of unnecessary details:

Laura ran through the door. “Where are my keys?” she asked Julia MacGregor, her best friend since fifth grade.

Julia shrugged and replied, “I’m not sure. You left then on the coffee table, last time I saw them.”

Here is a prime example of TMI. First, the author ended Laura’s question with she asked. The readers already know Laura asked, based on the punctuation, so there’s no reason for the writer to add that to the end of Laura’s dialogue. Same with Julia…replied. Like before, the readers know that Julia is answering the question, so why be redundant when you don’t need to be? 

Secondly, the readers don’t care to actually know what Julia’s last name is or if they’ve been friends since 5th grade. That’s irrelevant. All the reader needs to know is that Julia is a friend of Laura. Later, if it is necessary, the writer can imply they have known each other for a lengthy period of time. Putting all this information in that single sentence, causes not only a disruption of the reader’s thought processing and reading, but also a very wordy run-on sentence.Here’s an example of a better way to word this dialogue:

Laura ran through the door. “Where are my keys?”

Julia shrugged. “I’m not sure. You usually leave them on the coffee table.” 

Wording it like this, it allows the reader to infer quite a few things. First, the reader knows who is saying what based on the fact each girl’s dialogue is on a separate line. Also, Julia’s words imply they are family or friends that live together, or at least very familiar with each other’s habits. This means they’ve known each other for awhile.

This is just a single example of subtle writing. Less is more. Your readers aren’t stupid. You don’t have to spell everything out for them; their imaginations will fill in the blanks. That’s the beauty of stories: they allow your imagination to expand. So, the next time you’re writing, try to remember subtlety. After all, it’s the little things that make the big difference. 

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