The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How Much to Give? How Much to Hold Back?

by Andrew Tibbetts

There’s a technical issue I’ve been struggling with in my writing—balancing these two occasionally opposing virtues: clarity and subtlety. Is it enough to write “Hughes tapped a little rhythm on the windowpane” knowing that many readers won’t remember the flashback from much earlier in the story that mentions Hughes’ father’s habit of tapping? The point is the character is thinking about her father. It’s enough for me, but I know these characters so much better than any reader and my job as a writer is to provide an experience for the reader.

When I get feedback from multiple members of my writing group there’s often wide disagreement. “I’m not sure why the woman cries in that scene. Could you give us a little more?” “Are you sure you need her to cry? It’s already obvious she’s upset about the betrayal because of what she says to her daughter?”

This issue comes up once a paragraph. I usually resolve it for myself by what feels right to me. And every writer has their own style. And every reader their own preference. If you like subtlety you won’t be reaching for Dan Brown. So I just live with the fact that I please myself and some people won’t get my work and some people will find it too coarse.

But then occasionally I can’t tell. “Thinking of her father, Hughes fingers tapped the taxi windowpane.” Ugh. “The taxi passed a billboard advertising a father’s day sale. Hughes fingers beat a little rhythm on the pane.” A bit better, but I’m already feeling this is the sentence in the story that’s going to take months to write.

As usual, writing turns out to be much harder work, he thinks, tapping a little rhythm on the side of his head, with a baseball bat, as a gorilla naps in the corner, its copy of Proust fallen open to page 99.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

So what's the significance of page 99? You really neeed to clarify that. And,Hughes: do we find out somewhere how she got that name? It seems critical to understanding her character.

Yup, some feedback can be just enough to ruin the piece. Most people will say they want to know more if you give them the chance, but they really like a bit of mystery. I say go with what pleases you. Sometimes we writers just think too much.

Wed Aug 20, 07:28:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

And sometimes with the feedback there's the stuff that, if there's no traffic, and the radio's low, and there fridge isn't humming, reaches a part of you that knows what's being said is true. Not all of it, but those one or two bits, the ones that stop your heart a beat because, yes. Sigh. Yes, I have to fix that part...

Wed Aug 20, 11:13:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Thanks Guys!

Fri Aug 22, 09:05:00 am GMT-4  

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