Comment of the Day: Hush, Hush Edition

Illustration for article titled Comment of the Day: Hush, Hush Edition

In today's comments, we tossed around some unorthodox investment solutions, speculated on the whereabouts of lost lab animals (right behind you), and got some key insight into the writing process.

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In his Q&A on writing and his novels, author Max Barry shared his thoughts on the power of strategic silences in writing:

The more I write, the more I believe in gaps. Earlier on, I felt like my job was to SAY WHAT HAPPENS. I've always tended to be dialogue-heavy and description-light, just because my eyes tend to glaze over when I read physical descriptions of inanimate objects; I just don't care about that. I DO NOT CARE WHAT THE LAKE LOOKS LIKE. I care about the power relationships between the people, and what might happen next.

But when you write you notice that people have very different reactions to the exact same words. And you figure out that the story is not taking place on the page; the story takes place in people's brains. It's a very interactive process. So my job as a writer is not actually to SAY WHAT HAPPENS but rather to allow the reader's brain to conjure up particular ideas or emotions or visions. The brain is really good at that. The brain will do it with very little prompting, filling in all manner of gaps. And those are almost always the most powerful moments in storytelling: not when something is spelled out for you, but when your brain forms a conclusion about what's happening or where this is going or what this means all on its own.

Also, as a reader, my most frustrating moments are when I feel a book is treating me like an idiot. So nowadays I tend to say less and rely more on implication and suggestion, leaving the heavy lifting to your brain. This also means that if someone tells me they didn't like my book, I know it's not my fault, they just have a DEFECTIVE BRAIN.

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Image: Falconia / Shutterstock

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DISCUSSION

Aw, man, I DON'T CARE WHAT THE LAKE LOOKS LIKE EITHER! I have been struggling with this because I hate describing crap in the novel I'm writing. If it's immediately relevant to the plot or action, or necessary to understand where people are and why, sure. But I just, I JUST DON'T WANT TO WRITE ABOUT THE STUPID WIND ON THE WATER OR THE WAY THE PRE-DAWN LIGHT SETS THE WORLD AGLOW WITHOUT CASTING SHADOWS, I DON'T CAAAAAAAARE.

See, I'm no good at it anyway.

I just want to be in my character's heads, seeing their thoughts, or listening to them talk to each other. Or shoot each other. Or hold each other hostage. Or blow something up.

I'm so glad I might be able to get away with not describing boring crap that I don't care about! Theme, tone, bla bla bla. Get me to the next dun dun DUNNNN!

I'll listen to my beta readers; they'll tell me when I need to describe more. But they can't miss something that was never there!