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Leave Room for Readers

Comicality

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One thing that I have always loved about writing stories is the idea that I can finally allow my mind and my emotions to exist in a world that I, alone, can actually control! Hehehe, and that probably sounds pretty narcissistic, but it's the truth. In the worlds that I create, the shy guy can get their first kiss from the prettiest boy on the block. The lovable 'friend zone' kid can get the boy of his dreams to finally see him for the perfect mate that he is. Justice is always served where needed, bullies and evildoers always get their comeuppance, and fate is always conspiring in the favor of my main character.

 

Naturally...spoiler alert...real life doesn't always work that way. To be honest, it's a coin flip decision, figuring out whether you're going to be treated fairly or unfairly by life itself. Sad, but true. But a guy can dream, right?

 

Being able to write fiction and fantasize about what a perfect world might be like if it followed our individual ideas of love and romance and beauty were at our very core is an exciting and satisfying release for any creative mind that decides to take it head on. However...I, personally, believe that there has to be a little bit of room left for the readers to enjoy their fantasies too. Them being engaged in the stories we write is half the battle. Maybe even more so. And I'd like to talk about that a bit more this week. Feel free to join me if you like. Hehehe!

 

You see, one thing that can be hard for me to do sometimes is to take 'myself' out of the equation when I'm writing. I cling to every emotion, every expression...my stories are SO personal, and so closely connected to who I am as a person. I can see and feel and almost touch every last part of my story as if it were real. I think it's a good thing, and I love being able to bring my personality, thoughts, dreams, sense of humor, and fears, to my readers. But I also try to remember that this is their experience too. The idea for me as an author is for us to share that experience. I can't create a sense of perfection for my audience, because we all have drastically different ideas about what 'perfection' is. How can I possibly 'tell' somebody what they want? That's just not the way to go. So...how do I get around that and still bring that heart and that extremely personal touch to my stories that a wide audience can relate to and identify with.

 

The answer is...leave room for their input.

 

Hehehe, don't look so confused. I'll explain. LOL! When has 'Comsie' ever NOT run off at the mouth? :P

 

I always enjoy reading your comments on these weekly entries, and I love to hear about how you guys handle all of these writing tactics on your own. I can remember a few times in the past where some of you were talking about 'sex scenes' in your stories, and how sometimes you just allude to a sexual encounter and then get back to the story. You don't have to graphically describe every thrust, every kiss, every heavy breath and droplet of sweat, involved. The sex is simply suggested, and the audience understands what happened when the story 'faded to black', right? This is a perfect example of leaving room for your audience. Because, even though we don't write out some lengthy description of what was going on in that scene, in the minds of your readers...they're probably picturing the most erotically charged sex scene they've ever seen! LOL! It's true! Tell me you haven't done it yourselves. Wherever the author leaves off...your personal fantasies fill in the details. And nobody is ever going to write something hotter than your own sexual desires. Those desires are tailor made to you and you alone. Giving you an opportunity to explore and enjoy those fantasies during the story, makes them a part of it. They personalize it, and therefore...become much more involved.

 

That's the secret! :)

 

It's the 'eye of the beholder' theory at work. If everybody reading this were to post a picture here of who they think is the most beautiful boy on planet Earth...chances are, despite some similarities here and there, no two pictures would be alike. So, when I describe my characters in my stories, you may notice that the details lay out a 'guideline', but I don't go out of my way to make them overly specific unless I feel it's needed for the story. I may describe hair color, eye color, vague body type...but other than that, I use words like 'beautiful', or 'gentle', or 'delicate features'. I describe them as being bashful, or intimidating, or merely cute. And that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Instad of trying to force my version of 'cute' on my readers, I try to explain that my protagonists finds them to be stunningly gorgeous...and I give them room to interpret what their idea of 'stunningly gorgeous' means to them. Maybe they're picturing the typical, soft bodied, boy next door. Maybe they're picturing the sexy track star with the rock hard abs. Maybe they think back to that very first crush they had in the tenth grade, or they might think back to that first boyfriend they nabbed in college. Hell, maybe they're thinking of a singer or actor that they're currently obsessed with. The point is...when you give you readers room to create some of the details with their own vivid imagination, they become more attracted to the story itself. The perfection in their own minds becomes an overlay for the story you're giving them...and that symbiotic reader/writer relationship gets enhanced tenfold.

 

The way to accomplish this is to simply allow certain specifics about your characters or events in the story to be vague and malleable, according to who might be reading. That doesn't mean that you should purposely exclude details. You still want to paint a picture that will bring your readers into the world that you wanted to create...but there are ways to finesse your wordplay in ways that gives a description without intruding on your reader's imagination.

 

For example...

 

If you write, "I thought he was so beautiful! He was about 5' 7", and rail thin...150 pounds, tops. He had a few pimples, but nothing major. And a lip ring on the right side of his bottom lip. An emo boy with reddish brown hair and spiked bracelets on each wrist." there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. This is a detailed description of a character that you wanted to create, and it's perfectly normal for you to do so. So if that's the picture you want to paint, then go for it!

 

However, in most cases, I would personally write it a bit differently...

 

"I thought he was so beautiful! Slender, with longish reddish-brown hair. I liked his bracelets too. I just couldn't get over how cute he was. Scattered pimples and all."

 

So what's the difference? I left more room for the reader to put the picture of this boy together. I don't mention how tall he is. What if my readers want to picture him as being really tall and lanky? Or what if they want someone shorter? What if the term 'rail thin' turns them off? They might like someone with a bit more meat on their bones. What if the term 'emo boy' puts a certain vision of what that means...and they decide they're not into it? What if they don't like lip rings? All of these things come into play when writing a story. ESPECIALLY when it's a romantic or erotic story. So it's something to think about. This is why it can be difficult to write fanfics sometimes. What happens if you pick a fictional character or a celebrity that other people don't find sexy? They skip it, immediately. You want to avoid that. Let your readers define the characters for themselves. Give them an outline, sure...but unless a super detailed description is needed for that particular character...leave the window open for them to do some creative world building of their own.

 

I learned this after years of having readers give me ideas or pictures or drawings of how they imagine my characters would look. They're all so different! But I LIKE that. When they read the stories, they have the best cast, the best score of music, the most erotic and visually appealing love interests, imaginable! The story that they're building in the back of their minds is FAR superior than anything that I could ever hope to type out on this screen. So it's almost like we're developing this project together as a team. And I find that to be a bonding experience, personally. Sometimes they have hotter sex scenes in mind, sometimes they have more action packed fight scenes in mind, sometimes they're imagining the saddest song ever made during a heartbreak scene...and I won't even try to match that. Hehehe, let them build it their way. It's a big part of the process when it comes to building and maintaining a loyal fanbase and increasing their personal connection to the characters in your story.

 

So...set the stage, pick the costumes, and flesh out your characters and scenes however you want...but always remember that the reader is a big part of this creative effort. Whether you know them or not. Detail is essential in literature, but sometimes...less is more. If someone is beautiful...let you readers figure out what beautiful is. If someone has longish blond hair...let your readers determine how long 'longish' is. If your characters made love all night long...sometimes it's sexier to just say "We made love all night long. Over and over again. And every orgasm was better than the one before it." Trust me, your audience will imagine what that must have been like, and it will be everything they ever dreamed of! "Wow! You're story was awesome (enter writer's name here)!" Hehehe, well THANKS! You did half the work! ::Giggles::

 

Junk food for thought! I hope this helps!

 

Seezya soon, you guys! And happy writing!

 

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I disagree somewhat. When I read a story, and it has too little detail, I'm usually put off by it. I'm thinking to myself, "What the hell man, this is your story, your world, paint the damn picture."

 

There is a very fine line between not enough details, and too many. Trying to find that happy balance is the main objective. Yes, let the reader use their imagination to fill in the gaps, but you need to put stuff in there to get them to see it as you see it. Setting the stage is what I call it.

 

For Example:

The Acela Club lounge was not like a lounge found in airports, with their fancy dressing and overabundance of hedonism. Instead, it was a simple affair, slightly dated but functional. The hallway from the check-in counter held a row of semi-private desks, with another hallway branching off to club exclusive restrooms. Walking into the main area, a table laid out with individually wrapped snacks sat just off to the side. On the counter next to it was the soda machine, ice dispenser, and hot coffee station. Scattered around the medium size room, was a scattering of sitting areas made up of comfy armchairs and couches. Small tables dotted between them. On the back wall was two arrival and departure screens. Mount on the wall in separate areas was two flat-screen TVs. One was showing Headline News, while the other had a remote near it. It currently was playing NHLTV. The four teens sat there with drinks and snacks already, when Jeremy, Travis, and the two dads walked over.

 

Just my opinion on it.

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31 minutes ago, Myr said:

I can probably get away with "it's magic" more than people writing outside of fantasy though :D

I agree the "it's magic" or "It's psionics" is enough in most cases in Fantasy and SciFi. Those two genres were made for Infodumps as well.

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2 hours ago, BHopper2 said:

I disagree somewhat. When I read a story, and it has too little detail, I'm usually put off by it. I'm thinking to myself, "What the hell man, this is your story, your world, paint the damn picture."

 

There is a very fine line between not enough details, and too many. Trying to find that happy balance is the main objective. Yes, let the reader use their imagination to fill in the gaps, but you need to put stuff in there to get them to see it as you see it. Setting the stage is what I call it.

 

For Example:

The Acela Club lounge was not like a lounge found in airports, with their fancy dressing and overabundance of hedonism. Instead, it was a simple affair, slightly dated but functional. The hallway from the check-in counter held a row of semi-private desks, with another hallway branching off to club exclusive restrooms. Walking into the main area, a table laid out with individually wrapped snacks sat just off to the side. On the counter next to it was the soda machine, ice dispenser, and hot coffee station. Scattered around the medium size room, was a scattering of sitting areas made up of comfy armchairs and couches. Small tables dotted between them. On the back wall was two arrival and departure screens. Mount on the wall in separate areas was two flat-screen TVs. One was showing Headline News, while the other had a remote near it. It currently was playing NHLTV. The four teens sat there with drinks and snacks already, when Jeremy, Travis, and the two dads walked over.

 

Just my opinion on it.

I think there is a difference between describing a place and describing what a character looks like, which is what @Comicality appears to be trying to get across.  I used to read a very popular romance author when I was in college and she had a thing about over-describing what characters looked like sometimes, and I never really liked it.  I don't need to know what a characters nose looks like okay (Yes, she described the shape of her character's noses).  A few common details is fine, like Comsie said.  The only description I gave for a character I wrote was:  Brandon studied him discreetly from his lowered lashes during that brief respite.  Jordan had the classic all American good looks... blond hair, bright blue eyes and a perfect white smile. He was well built--not skinny and lanky like Brandon himself was. He looked every bit like the perfect prep school student and the polar opposite of himself. Probably made straight A's and played football or lacrosse.

 

That was it, and I felt like it was more than enough.  Jordan is a preppy teenager that Brandon pretty much distrusted at first sight.  But I didn't say how tall, how much he weighed, what shape his nose/mouth was, or how his hair was cut or what clothes he was wearing (because who cares, really)?  The reader can fill that in themselves.  I have given them a starting point.

 

Having said that, I am not a huge fan of descriptions.  I am more interested in what a character is doing or thinking than what they are wearing, or what the room they are in looks like.  (At one point, someone did point out that I did not describe my characters very well until way too late in a story, so maybe I need to work on that, lol).  

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2 hours ago, Backwoods Boy said:

That was today's real experience, by the way, and I'm torn between acknowledging/not embarrassing my adviser ;) 

:whistle:

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Always looking forward to reading these.

 

I tend to avoid sex scenes now, that's for sure.  I've written one and it took me over a day to write it because I felt... I dunno... like an intruder in their personal moment as I'm writing down for the readers what's going on.  After that (purely to save time) I would just segue to what one of my favorite authors would call "a boot scene," and just get back to the main plot.

 

I agree that it's a lot easier to let the readers fill in the details for themselves.  When it comes to physical descriptions of my characters I usually limit it to hair color, eye color and a general height assessment along with an idea of how they are built.  Brian is still trim just like he was when he was in high school.  Troy has a dad bod going on being a happily married father of three now as opposed to when he was the captain of the swim team.  Andy bulked up during his time in the marine corps and has a goatee now.  Jacob went from teen heartthrob to fat to nearly body builder proportions.  Kyle kept his good looks but lost some of his old body definition and is just a handsome every-man now.  The rest I leave up to readers imagination to fill in because I got better things to do than constantly keep describing how the characters' bodies look.

 

And, boy, if the comments were any clue, the readers were perfectly fine with that too.

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11 minutes ago, Cia said:

 

The same goes for setting. I don't catalog my home as I walk in the door each day, so a character shouldn't either. But as they move along they can share different elements of the home as they move through it. Grabbing a drink out of the fridge, tossing their lunch bag on the counter covered in such and such material that was more of a pain in the ass to maintain than they thought, sinking into the comfy chair that looked god awful ugly but felt like heaven under his aching body after a long day, flicking on the TV that cost more than two weeks wages, etc....

 

Totally agree.  It's good to point out some relevant things that gives the reader an idea on the kind of lifestyle someone lives (rich, middle class, poor) by giving a modest description of a room or what kind of clothes they're wearing but writing everything down to the minuscule details takes up page and time and energy best served keeping to the narrative. 

 

Conversely, sometimes you need to point out those kitchen knives in the room because in a few minutes a fight with a vampire is about to break out and they will come in handy. 😜

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On 12/8/2018 at 2:27 PM, Backwoods Boy said:

I've seen too many stories on another site that start with a dump of what should be the author's private character attribute spreadsheet.  By the time you're done reading the first two pages, you're overwhelmed with detail, and by the time you get to where a detail is important, it's been forgotten. 

You mean Nifty? I've also noticed that particular pitfall. The so-called "Mirror Catalog", listing everything you might see in the bathroom mirror. Do we really need to know every single detail about a character's physique within the first paragraph? Especially the private bits? I mean, a normal person wouldn't walk up to a total stranger on the subway train and start talking about his junk, would they? Save some mysteries for later, preferably two or three chapters if you must, but don't reveal them too soon. I like a little guess-work in my stories, a gradual revelation. Otherwise, when the clothes actually come off, there aren't any surprises left for readers.

Edited by Page Scrawler
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When I'm writing, I do try to keep physical details about my characters to a minimum. A dimple here, a chocolate-hued eye there, tied together with some freckles on the nose and a soft, husky voice that occasionally cracks at the end...that's what makes a good character description. Do I say how tall the character is in inches? Nope. Do I mention that he's heavily inspired by someone I knew in high school? No. Because readers don't need to know that. Of course, there are other details that are more important, such as setting. If I say "We were in a coffee shop. He was a waiter, and I ordered a latte. We kissed behind the Dumpster. The End.", people definitely want to know more! "What did he look like? Was he funny? Was the coffee shop crowded, or sparsely populated?" For locations and settings, I try to be more detailed, to give readers a close idea of what surrounds the characters. After all, the surroundings help set the mood for the situation.  :)

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