We all have that one friend that loves to tell you their great adventures in painstaking detail. They drone on and on about every minor detail as if it makes some kind of impact on your senses. It takes them minutes, sometimes hours to get to their point and when they do they get that grin on their face like “you get it right” as you sit there smile plastered on and the hamster in your mind is panting for breath just trying to comprehend everything they just divulged. It is this type of overbearing stimulation of the senses that makes us lose interest.
Recently, while diving into the digital world of rough drafts, short stories and fanfiction I ran across a great story concept. I was so enthralled that someone had taken the opportunity to tackle such an interesting subject matter that I cracked open the draft and made a vow to ignore any grammatical errors that usually stuck out to me like a sore thumb. To my horror, I was suddenly facing down something even worse than the misuse of the English language. No, instead I was so overwhelmed with useless details and redundant descriptions that I couldn’t even force myself past the third page. What a tragedy to befall any reader who is attempting to enjoy the hard work of a writer. Such a bad taste was left in my mouth I refused to look further into that author’s work, fearing I would be yanked down the hole again.
This experience got me thinking, what exactly causes this issue? Aren’t writers supposed to provide a painting of the environment around their world for the reader to enjoy? Isn’t more detail and an understanding of the mental image we want to portray, important? All of these questions led to a long discussion that came to one conclusion: you have to let the reader use THEIR imagination, not yours.
Think for a moment about all of the accumulative experiences you have had in life. You relate certain words, smells or sense together due to this. Because no two people experience life the same, no two people will experience a book the same. What you may visualize as a tall dark and handsome man may not even be close to what your reader sees in their mind’s eye. Our job as writers isn’t to force a reader to conform to what we mentally see but instead to give just enough detail to engage the reader’s imagination and guide them through the story.
We must refrain from overstimulating or overwhelming our readers and have to keep in mind that while we may want every tiny detail we have imagined to make it on the paper, if it is not relevant or it bogs down the reader’s ability to enjoy our work, it needs to be trimmed down. So get a friendly review from a peer or an official editor and see where you can shave off some of the excess.