This is great advice for the writer who is serious about his or her research or expertise — I’m reminded of Heinlein describing buying a roll of butcher paper and covering it with equations to figure out how to describe a ship’s orbit for “Starship Troopers”, and then merely describing the scene. No mention of math, no explanation of ballistics appears in the text. He just wanted to know how the scene should look, then described the scene to his readers.
I see oversharing extend beyond technical matters as well. I’ve seen writers spend a whole page describing what a character is wearing in detail, jarringly out-of-place sentences informing us of the exact height and weight of (usually beefy combatant male or slinky sex-kitten female trope stereotype) characters, loving in-detail descriptions of weaponry, vehicles, and other gear.
While writing, it is easy to imagine the reader hanging on every word, admiring the clever stacked adjectives, enjoying the artful turn of phrase of the image as it is built.
Well, that’s not what’s happening. 99% of the readers are slapping palm to forehead and moaning, “who gives a shit what the thread count of the protagonist’s pocket square is, and how it’s folded? WHERE IS THE STORY I PAID FOR?”
Readers have imaginations. They want brief, evocative descriptions that help them build the scene in their own imaginations. They don’t want your grubby little literary fingers in their brains trying to micromanage their leisure reading.
A few years ago, someone approached me about adapting a thriller into a screenplay. Reading through the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure where the script should begin. The first scene involved an autopsy where the pathologist missed the symptoms of a biological agent. The author took us through each stage of the autopsy including each instrument the pathologist used, where he made his incisions, and the weight of every organ.
It was clear the author knew what he was talking about, but he wasn’t telling a story, he was teaching a lesson.
The scene had no conflict until the author told us about the crucial detail the pathologist missed. The prologue read like it was supposed to function as the opening stinger of a crime drama. This might have worked if the pathologist had struggled to find a cause…
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The upside of having an eclectic vision, or, put another way, of being a scatterbrain: variety! I love variety in just about everything. Music, food, my reading, my writing. The downside: lack of focus. Focus has its advantages. It’s easier to finish things when you’re focused. Finishing stories can be a struggle for me. I tend to get interested in something else and wander away. If I didn’t make myself go back and finish, I could easily have a couple of hundred story fragments and nothing done. As the hoary old chestnut goes, starting things is easy, but as time goes on… SQUIRREL! Look at the squirrel over there! Wait, there’s something shiny the other direction, wonder what it is… hey, I’m hungry, are you hungry? Wonder what sort of snacks are available…
Today’s thoughts of the ups and downs of eclecticism came to me while updating my ‘stories to either resubmit to markets or self-publish if I’m tired of sending them back out’ stack. Right now the stack stands at five; I don’t like it to get much larger than that. Stories sitting around on my hard drive doing nothing are, well, doing nothing. And that’s just not helpful. They’re an eclectic lot. Let’s take a look at what I have here, using 1-word shorthand for titles, since I haven’t sold or released any of them yet:
Kitty: Near-future. Speculative fiction, just barely. If it wasn’t set in the near future, it would be a mainstream story and it reads like one. A tale of a boy and his cat in an impoverished coastal North Carolina ravaged by severe sea-level rise and powerful climate-change-fueled storms.
Meow: Call this one contemporary fantasy. A Cat of Power awakes after a long sleep frozen in Siberian permafrost and tries to make sense of what the world has become. Two cat stories in the lot is as close as I come to a theme in this list. I do like a good cat story. I blame the internet’s bad influence.
Dawn: Definitely science fiction, there are spaceships and everything. The participants in a long-distance relationship meet via interstellar travel. As usual in a long-distance relationship story, there’s something unsaid that must be confronted once they meet.
Pornodroid: Science fiction, again with spaceships and everything. Not as sexy as it sounds. A pop music star under a very onerous contract discovers that stardom ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and finds a high-tech way to attempt an escape.
Fire: A 100-word western involving a lost Spaniard, a nasty bearded brigand, and a campfire.
Maybe it would be a little easier to attract readers if I stuck to one thing. On the other hand, I can’t be the only one who enjoys variety. And frankly, if I tried to compress myself into a branding-marketing straitjacket and keep everything focused, I have a feeling that the writing I produced would rapidly start to suck. I’m happy being a bit scatterbrained. My mind is a restless dog, sticking its nose into every corner and smelling after new and exciting smells. If I tried to chain it down it would rapidly become unhappy and you’d get tired of hearing it bark all the time.
So, the toilet ate my writing time tonight.
Every day I foolishly think of all of the hours and hours that are available to me for writing, and I expect to take advantage of several of them. But things intervene. Things like changing diapers (baby butts do NOT respond well to being left wet and need to be dealt with promptly), cooking meals, doing minor car repairs, shopping, and so on.
Today was special, though. You see, the day before yesterday, the toilet stopped working. By which I mean it started shooting water out from under one side when flushed. NOT a situation you can ignore. Not only is a wet floor no fun, but when it’s a toilet that’s involved it’s, shall we say, less than sanitary.
This was complicated by the fact that our small and humble home has only one bathroom. So yesterday was a bit trying, but everyone was a good sport and put up with the temporary inconvenience. A neighbor who knows a bit about plumbing stuff (as I think of it) was going to help us out today and get our facilities back in working order. So today we went out, ran some errands in places that conveniently had working toilets for us to take advantage of, and…
…and of course the neighbor was delayed, detained, and missing in action. I’m not pointing fingers; I don’t doubt that what came up was important. Our neighbor likes us and isn’t the kind of person who would just blow us off for nothing.
But as the evening wore on, I realized I had one of two choices: wait, or try to learn how to fix a toilet on the fly.
So being a logical sort of person, I decided to rip that sucker out of the floor and try to figure it out as I went. Usually this sort of thing ends badly. But I figured, what do I have to lose?
After figuring out that the problem is a floor that has subsided a bit, I realized that the real, long-term fix will be to replace the floor. But it has not subsided dangerously, so the short-term fix that should hold it for a few weeks until a real expert can help us fix this for the long term:
I put down a new wax seal, set a couple of wooden paint stirrers under one side as shims to level it, screwed that sucker down to the floor, and with great apprehension that I was about to cause a flood of both water and disappointment, tested it.
Wonder of wonder, it works with no leaks and is stable and firmly attached to the floor.
I know those shims aren’t forever. You don’t put wood down where it’s going to be damp from time to time and expect long life. But I have successfully MacGuyvered something that I knew nothing about. It’s nice to know this lump of gray matter I use for writing is good for figuring out a mechanical problem once in a while.
Even if it means I got diddly done for writing today.