People read stories because they want to feel. That’s good because writers write stories because they want to make people feel. Sometimes, however, they want it too badly, and so they start telling their readers what they should be feeling.
See, this character’s sad, that one’s anxious, and that one is happy.
Paradoxically, this results in the kind of prose that has the exact opposite effect on the readers because they feel like children being dragged away from the toys and the sweets in the store, and towards where mommy wants to go, which is probably the wine section.
As readers, we want to experience stories on our terms. To follow whatever emotional threads that we find engaging, and be allowed the liberty of living through the experience as if we were the hero of the story. Because, when you get right down to it, that’s why we read stories.
The best, most engaging kind of prose has this kind of stilted quality about it. Not dull, or meandering, or devoid of emotion, no, the best kind of prose is very deliberate about emotion, but at the same time, it knows how to get out of your way, remain transparent, and let you feel whatever resonates with you the most. That way, the story you’re reading becomes genuinely yours, a unique experience that you don’t have to share with other readers, an adventure so private and intimate you don’t want to share it with others. It was your book. No one has to know.
Great stories achieve that effect by giving you all the reasons to feel, but stopping short of telling you how to feel because that would be handholding. Great writers know how to make people feel the way great stage actors can hold audiences spellbound, and make whole auditoriums of grownups pretend that something fell into their eyes.
And the trick to it, the secret of doing almost anything well, is knowing how to stop before more becomes less.
Need Help During NaNoWriMo?
Starting today, you can join me on my Patreon-only Discord server. It’s a perfect place for you to bounce ideas around, get help with your novel, ask for other writer’s opinions and advice (mileage may vary), or simply a place where you can hang out. Check it out.
This is something I can see myself struggling with. Not knowing when to hold back. But now that you’ve pointed it out, I can build awareness around it and hopefully catch myself in the act before it’s too late