See that little girl on the left? That’s Helen Keller, the famous deaf and blind woman who learned to read and speak and went on to do Great Things, with the help of her teacher, the woman on the right, Anne Sullivan.
Now, you may ask yourself, what in tarnation does this have to do with writing? I’m so glad you asked. Read the paragraph above again and then think about it for a moment. I’ll wait.
Done? Okay, in case there are some of you still scratching your heads, I will elaborate. Because if someone (my instructor and author-hero Jill Ciment) hadn’t explained it like this, I’d have never come up with the idea on my own.
You see, our readers are like little Miss Helen Keller. In the dark, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, understanding nothing, until we, in the role of Anne Sullivan, show them the way by the words we choose to write. Now I’m not saying that my stories are going to inspire someone to go out and be a great philanthropist, I’m happy if someone just enjoys what I’ve written and has a few hours pleasant distraction. But, unless I tell that blind, deaf reader what is going on in my story, how are they supposed to know?
I know, I’ve just been talking about streamlining and making sure my prose is not too wordy, but there’s a difference between describing a scene so that someone understands what’s happening and where the characters are, and a ‘filmed version’ of what’s going on. I am all too often guilty of describing the setting in great detail. I have to remember to think like I might if I were leading Helen Keller by the hand. Tell the important things, right off the bat, so the reader can get a handle on the action instead of being bewildered by the details.
Think of yourself as a diver on a diving board. You know that water is cold, but jumping in is the only way to tell the story. Bouncing on the end of the diving board doesn’t get that story told any faster or easier, it just adds extra information that the reader really doesn’t need.
So, jump in already!