All that is, but isn’t there.

There is a great amount of your writing that you will never put into words, and leave for the reader to fill in on his or her own.  I like to draw.  But, the problem I come across when drawing perspective is that I am not allowed to draw in every piece I can see in my mind.  The brain sees in three dimensions, the paper has only room for two.  The cubists ignored this and wrote it out anyway, giving all sides, but the brain cannot properly process three dimensions in two dimensional form, and it looks abstract.

When looking at a skyline, while traveling, you can see… everything!  But really, to be truthful, it’s your brain that is filling in a lot of what is there.  Your eyes aren’t actually seeing individual branches way up on the mountain, and it’s your previous experience of branches in close proximity that fills in the blanks.  The same thing happens in writing.  There’s great amounts of scenery in a book that your previous experiences fills in to allow the writer to ignore those boring bits.  That Saramago quote from Seeing was a moment of allowing the reader to understand that absolutely none of the anonymous buildings have been provided, and all these people have been speaking in some city hall you’ve provided for them.  Powerful stuff for Saramago, who leaves his narrative’s location purposefully open to interpretation, and you automatically fill in your own state buildings.

But it is possible to leave something too open.  In a story I sold recently I left a relationship unwritten between a father and daughter, because my own mind filled in the relationship I have with my dad.

My dad is awesome, by the way.

But not everyone has that kind of touchstone for “father/daughter” and their landscape filling brain would change the story I wrote.  My awesome editor, caught on to that and asked for a bit more background, and I got out the canvas to add a few more trees.

Getting a little metaphor loopy.  Sorry.

In the other direction, I have read stories in which every single piece of the scenery is oppressively overt, and a paragraph (long one) is devoted to the way garbage flutters in the street.  Sometimes this can be used to shove the reader out of the protagonists head; illustrating a main character a little too big for his britches, but golly it can be an exhausting read.  When the reader starts to skim to get to the meat of the story… that’s really not a good sign.  Elmore Leonard, God rest his soul, advised one leave out the parts of the story that the readers like to skip.  Very sound advice.

Writing is a struggle to put in and leave out just the right combination of words to allow the story to come naturally to the reader’s mind.  And because all readers are different, you’re never going to write something that will resonate with everyone’s brain.  But you can come close.

A really good story that alights another person’s brain, and gets them thinking your thoughts, is about as close to telepathy as I’m going to get.  One day it will develop into Magical Powers.  I write because it allows me to go on thinking I might be a secret wizard.

Or an alchemist.


“It will not have gone unnoticed, by particularly exacting readers and listeners, that the narrator of this fable has paid scant, not to say non-existent, attention to the place in which the action described, albeit in rather leisurely fashion, is taking place. Apart from the first chapter, in which there were a few careful brush-strokes applied to the area of the polling station, although, even then, these were applied only to doors, windows, and tables, and with the exception of the polygraph, that machine for catching liars, everything else, which is quite a lot, has passed as if the characters in the story inhabited an entirely insubstantial world, were indifferent to the comfort or discomfort of the places in which they found themselves, and did nothing but talk.”
-Jose Saramago, Seeing

Saramago sometimes offers his readers glaring insight into the ways in which he manipulates the reading mind. Strangely, it is not uncomfortable.

I will write at length on the lessons I’ve been learning about painting backdrops, but I wanted this quote in place before I dig into it.