Leave it to the Imagination

Imagination (tiles) - HNBD

There’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. No, not that. I mean, yes, definitely that. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Seriously, get your mind out of the gutter.

It’s this…

The majority of the stories we take in these days are visual. Movies, television, comics, video games, porn, etc.

Books are one of the few exceptions where it’s all on the reader’s imagination to bring the story to life. Some might argue that duty actually rests in the author’s hands (OMG did he say he has doody in his hands?), but I would disagree and say it’s incumbent upon the reader to ultimately sell the story to themselves, no matter how great the descriptions may be.

Stephen King has an awesome quote in his book On Writing (which if you haven’t read yet, why the hell are you reading this stupid blog, go read that book now.) It states, simply:

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

I love that.

It perfectly summarizes a lot of what I feel about writing, but could never quite articulate because me not so good with words put together.

Actually, I could probably just stop this blog post at that. But am I? Hells naw!

Basically, my personal acquaintance Stephen King is saying you should leave some things to the reader’s whimsy rather than giving every single detail with nothing left for the old imagination station to crank out.

For example, think of it like the banana hammock I wear to the beach…and Wal-Mart. By wearing that, I’ve given you nothing else to ponder aside from how long can you hold back the vomit until oh god where the hell’s a trashcan!?

And I’d venture to say Mr. King’s quote is not just about a simple description of a house, or a character, or the lacey, gently wafting curtains. There’s much more that can be left to the reader’s invention.

In this modern day of talking pictures and “got dang vidya games”, we’re accustomed to seeing what is presented directly to our eyeballs, oftentimes accepting that’s all there is to it, thank you very much.

And, just as common, you’ll hear/read the vehement disapproval of the author’s choice not to give more detail about that girl Bonnie who showed up in chapter 3 and never came back even though she knew how to activate the clockwork corgi’s mainframe and her left eye was all twitchy and shit and why was she wearing that crimson turtle around her neck? Seriously, who the fuck was she?

“This story could have been more developed.” Amazon review by BananaPants69.

Maybe it comes off as a plot device created by the author just to keep the story moving along. But the way I see it, when done properly, maybe it hints at a larger world. People come into our lives all the time that we may find intriguing, but will never see again. Like that hobo from around the corner who in one magical summer taught me how to love again.

Life is so much more interesting when we’re left to finish the descriptions in our own minds. I mean, can you imagine how boring it would be to know everything about everyone? There’s some exceptions, obviously. Like that crazy cat lady down the hall in 4B who only comes out in the waning hours of night every third Tuesday of the month just before the last Taco Bell closes across town. I want to know what the hell she’s up to 24/7.

Ultimately, this is my advice: let the reader meet the story halfway. They can fill in the gaps. As an author, I would love for the reader to fill in my gaps. (Right back to the gutter with you, huh?)

Not everything can make it into the final version of the story. Nor should it. I am a firm believer that some things should be trimmed or cut out completely and left to the reader’s imagination. The fun is in the mystery.

The best stories are the ones that stick in our brains during the monotony of day-to-day life, the ones we can’t shake and absolutely have to dig deeper just to pull out a trifle more. The story doesn’t end on the page. That’s just the jumping off point. It continues in the reader’s mind, lives there, and hopefully evolves.

Some folks may be reluctant to meet you halfway. And that’s fine. Some people want a thousand page novel in a 15 book series that gives the dirty details down the very last horse mentioned on page 2 of book 1, and that’s perfectly okay. Like I’ve said before, there’s no wrong way to write a story. As for this guy, it’s the mysteries you leave behind that keep me coming back. Maybe all of the reader’s questions will be answered eventually, and maybe they won’t. Maybe said reader will decide you’re taking your sweet ass time and they’ll write the fan fiction that tells the stories you aren’t. And that’s amazing.

If a story inspires someone, even just one person, to create something of their own, think an original thought to connect the dots you left behind, or pushes them to find or forge the answers they may never get, then that to me is the mark of a great book. Hell, maybe one day I’ll even write one.

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