About a month ago, I read a post on Writer unBoxed about keeping your writing, especially your emotional scenes, clean and spare. In “Say a Little Less, Mean a Little More,” Kathryn Craft talked about leaving space for your reader in the scene by not over-writing your “emotional peaks” as she calls them. She put it so well, “They shouldn’t have to sift through the rubble of your exploded verbiage to find what it’s really about.”
I know it bothers me when I read but sometimes I wonder if that is just because I’m also a writer. Is it just because I want other writers to do things my way?
Today, I got my answer. My son was home from school and we were chatting about videos while we made lunch. He likes to watch various YouTubers who are urban explorers or who check out other eerie situations. The other night, he watched a video where four guys spent the night in a forest in Japan where numerous people to commit suicide. I haven’t seen the video but he said that in spite of the setting, which is super sad, the whole thing was laughable.
Why? Because they over did it. They spend so much time psyching each other out that they scare each other. They scare each other so badly that one guy threw up. The super scary noises they kept going on about were wind and rain in their microphone and other electronics. But they kept talking about how super scary it all was. They kept making super scared faces. Did it work? Nope.
He had watched a video of another group exploring a haunted hotel. They were moving through the hallways and the rooms. Here and there were abandoned bits of furniture, papers, and whatever. The overall effect was sad and dilapidated. They were busy filming this and that and although their whole party is on-screen, you see someone move past the doorway. That’s all.
But because they weren’t playing things up for the camera, it was much spookier.
Provide some detail, provide a bit of mood and tone. But then get out of the way. Let your reader connect the dots on his own. If you can pull this off, it will have a much greater effect than piling emotional detail on top of emotional detail.
I’m not saying it’s an easy balance but it is necessary. See Craft’s post for several writers who do this well. Study them and practice using the technique yourself. Your readers will thank you as they step into your stories.