Saturday, November 1, 2014

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It

We like to have a well-defined vision of our story world--character quirks, colors and fragrances, even weather changes that affect the mood--but we don't have to describe all those details to usher our readers into that world. In fact, skillful storytellers know what to leave to the imagination. An example:
The early morning sky, rinsed clean by the recent winter rains, curved overhead as though it were an inverted bowl. Ruth, striding toward the well, paused for a moment and tipped her head to look at it.
If we could find a clay that would turn blue when it was fired, she mused, how beautiful the pots would be. Or even a blue slip to trace on the outer surface of the bowls. Wouldn't it be lovely?
A familiar voice pulled her attention away from the sky.
"What are you looking for--birds to trap for dinner?"
Ruth grinned. The woman coming toward her was her sister but as unlike Ruth as it's possible for sisters to be. Small and oddly fair for a Moabite, Patima bore no resemblance to her tall, dark sister. Nor did her pointed, elfin face have any similarity to Ruth's calm, serene face with its broad forehead, winged brows and wide, mobile mouth. 
In 158 words, Lois Henderson sets the scene and introduces the lead characters of her best-selling novel, Ruth (Christian Herald Books: 1981). How old are these women? Which one is older? Where is the well--in a village, a forest clearing, beside a hard-packed clay trail? Is either one carrying a vessel to fetch water? Is it a jug, a pitcher, a tall amphora? Of carved stone or fired clay? What color? What are they wearing? Are others at the well?

The author tells us none of these things, so our imaginations supply the details. She surely considered these things, and may even have filled notebooks with these ideas before she began to write, but she didn't spell them out in the narrative itself. She left that to us, the readers.

Want to use the best techniques of creative writing? Then don't put too much detail into your story. Otherwise, there can be no creative reading.

Best wishes to our NaNoWriMo marathoners this month!

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Editorial Director of Discipleship Resources & Curriculum for Warner Press, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at

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