“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” -- Mark Twain
Mark Twain said it best, doesn’t he usually? While the budding author often finds words falling unbidden and beautifully at first stroke, it takes editing, more editing and pounding of the head off unassuming objects to clean up that first stroke of genius. But then, there are those scenes which simply will not conform to the vision in your head.
Have you done this? Have you ever had the most gorgeous scenario flowing through your brain only to sit down at the keyboard and release complete and utter drivel? I have. I hate that. And this phrase of Twain’s encompasses it so completely. I know what the mood is, the setting, the character’s disposition, but try as I might the words fall short. The more I try to describe the scene accurately, the more it loses the luster of first inception...
With my own writing, I find the problem is often one of overwriting. Too much petty detail where one or two strong, evocative words would have accomplished the feat much more accurately and given the reader something more to ponder, or sink their teeth into. This all was brought to mind very vividly last week, when Nathan Bransford held a first line challenge which captivated a large portion of the online writing community.
I noticed a number of writers who simply could not keep their entries to one line. In a few instances, I think the second lines made the prose more effective. For the most part, though, whole paragraphs weren’t necessary for this particular writing contest. As I read through them, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the authors were suffering from the same lack of confidence which I find myself constantly fighting in my own writing.
Hello. My name is Merry, and I’m a spoon feeder.
I’ve learned enough about my process, my writing, and where I’d like my writing to evolve to know the reason that I spoon feed. It’s not because I underestimate the reader – though I think over explanation can come across as a lack of respect for the reader’s intelligence. Whenever I am over explaining in my writing, it’s a sure sign that I’m underestimating my own ability to accurately depict the story. Spoon feeding, for me, has little to do with anything but my own need to relay all of the information that I know, so I won’t be leaving my reader in the dark. In reality, I know the subtlety of the story is what makes it fun, it’s what makes it possible for the readers to experience the story and own my characters. And that, for me, is the point of good writing.
So back to Mr. Twain’s eloquent quote – a string of mediocre descriptions can never deliver what the perfect words can do. This phrase is going next to my monitor, right underneath my handwritten admonishment, “No Spoon Feeding”... I look at it often, I’m not sure it’s helping, but I’m still trying.
How about you? What’s your greatest writing challenge at this stage? Which ones have you gotten past, and what have you become great at?