Writer’s workshops and creative writing classes teach writers the same thing: have confidence and never quit writing. Granted, this is good advice and writers should heed it, but let me give you another tip: believe in your readers.
Have faith that your readers will arrive at your writing with eager imaginations. When you trust your readers, you will never smother them with unnecessary details. To bog your readers down with endless facts is to betray your readers’ enjoyment of reading. What should you do instead?
Leave spaces in your writing. What lies between your words is as important as what lies in the meanings of your words. Give readers a chance to fill the empty spaces between your language and theirs. Readers like to pick up clues, make guesses, and figure out what is going on. They like to predict what will happen. Good reading is like putting a puzzle together with the hints a writer leaves behind.
For instance, here is a piece of writing done by a writer with no faith in readers:
Jack walked into the room. He felt annoyed, and as he brushed back his long locks, he walked over to the table and sat down awkwardly, putting his hands over his eyes. He sat quietly as his wife paced across the room. Her high heels made sharp stabbing sounds that irritated his nerves. He wanted her to stop. He wanted to end this nightmare with her.
“Listen,” he said to his wife in a pleading tone, “I am not in the mood to hear any more of your crazy ideas. I am not going to leave my job and I am not going to leave this house. If you need a change, get one yourself.” Jack stood up and glared at his wife. “It’s been a miserable twenty years with you,” he said before he stormed out of the room.
Here is the same piece written by a writer who honors readers’ imaginations:
He hesitated as he stood in front of the door with his shoulders hunched and his hands wrung tightly together. After he took deep breaths, he reached for the doorknob and slowly twisted it open. He peeked inside and saw her dark hair with streaks of grey cascading down her back. She turned to him with tears in her eyes.
“There’s no need to talk about this anymore,” Jack said as he entered the cluttered room piled high with boxes.
“But I can’t take it anymore…”
“That’s fine. Do what you have to do, but I don’t want to talk anymore.”
Jack slowly lowered himself into a chair and clasped his hands over his eyes. She turned and walked towards him.
“Stop,” Jack said as he stood up.
“But we’re throwing away twenty years. . .
Jack threw his shoulders back and walked out of the room. From the distance, he heard her muffled sobs. Jack clenched his teeth as he hurried away from her.
In the first piece of writing the author gave immediate details, including the way Jack felt when he walked into the room where his wife paced. Again, when Jack spoke, he revealed every detail of his unhappiness, including his next plan of action or lack of action, in order to alleviate his marriage’s ongoing distress. What was left for readers to guess? Absolutely nothing.
The second piece of writing revealed Jack’s emotions through his body language. How did Jack feel? The readers could only tell through Jack’s physical motions and his dialogue. The writer never told the readers what Jack felt. Instead, the writer left spaces wide open for readers to use their imaginations in order to guess the characters’ emotional maps. The second reading energized readers and invited participation.
Doesn’t every author want a reading audience to visit and then stick around? Of course. So, here’s my tip. Give your readers mystery. Don’t be afraid of your empty writing spaces. The more that readers feel included in your writing, the more they will want to come back for more.
Trust your readers. Then get to work and never quit writing.
by Shelby Londyn-Heath
Grey and his co-workers find themselves in dangerous situations every day at work. Their social services jobs require them to confront irate parents who are on drugs or who are mentally unbalanced. Grey is a long-time social worker, one who is not afraid to snatch newborn babies from glazed-eyed mothers or grab abused children out of classrooms, to place them in foster care. But something happens to Grey, something he cannot put into words as he struggles to cope. When a new co-worker enters the department, she secretly devises ways to force Grey out of his job. He senses her ploy and his stress intensifies. He grows increasingly head-strong and defiant, but he fails to stop her from delivering the final crush in an unexpected, malevolent manner To challenge his co-worker, Grey must find his inner truth and his co-worker’s “Achilles Heel” in order to rise up to conquer her. One of them must be transformed or destroyed.