Guest Post: This Part of the Scene is Left Implied Because the Author’s Hands were Busy

UZ’s guest posts continue.

Nothing exposes the comforting lies of fiction more than analysis by the reader, which is why we avoid this as much as we can. One avenue to failure in this respect is to become so absorbed in an idea that you become uncritical of your own work, and the easiest way to make this obvious is to dwell on something more than the reader really wants you to. This is a delicate balance, since different readers have different tastes, but we can generally assume that if your hero spends more than half the story restrained with ropes, or if the narrative frequently describes how light plays across their skin, that you will suffer some criticism for your concentration on this aspect.
This is a particularly difficult line to tread, especially for the “natural” writer, who often writes to celebrate something that is dear to their heart, and a certain amount of dwelling on the subject is really the point of many of these stories. And, despite my pretensions to aloofness and iron-hard authorial control, I am sometimes guilty of this myself.
So! How do we walk the line between the celebratory and the masturbatory? I can’t claim to be an expert, and there is a certain amount of my literature that I only keep for personal use, but here are a few things I generally pay attention to.
First, consider tone and context.  If it’s a story of unrelenting tension, then an enthusiastic love scene or a good cry at the end may be needed for the audience as well as our heroes, catharsis for the agony that we all shared together because agony without catharsis does not make the reader ever want to come back. Similarly, in stories that are flowery and full of imagery, applying the same detail to all events makes sense, even if this results in a twelve-page description of two people eating breakfast. Note that I have read entertaining descriptions of eating breakfast in the past so this is not hypothetical.
Second, consider the point we’re making and how much material it warrants. If we are trying to convince our audience that music is the universal language or that being in love is the best thing ever or that houses of bricks withstand assault better than other kinds of house, then we’ll describe these things more energetically than other aspects of the story. However, our tone is still important and if we mean to pressure the reader heavily on a narrow point, our thesis might be better off in a short story than a novel. A short story entitled “His Kisses were Tingly” is perfectly acceptable. A novel by the same title is not likely to be that great, because unless this title is jargon for something much more complicated, it will run out of potential fast.
Third, look at the idea we are putting forward and consider how dear it will be to anyone else’s heart. The less other people are interested, the more warming up we’ll have to do, and – internal logic of the story notwithstanding – the more closely we’re going to have to relate it to the real world. If it’s something that fits comfortably into most people’s cultural context we’ll probably be fine. Similarly, if it’s about things that are completely outside people’s experience they will tend to keep an open mind because they don’t recognize anything closely enough to be offended (hence the eerily inhuman religions of many JRPGs). However, if we’re trying to discuss something in the grey area – the one where people still understand but do not necessarily accept – we can get into serious trouble. This is the time when we need to explain our terms and thought process in advance – yes, the alien is five years old but that’s five Antares IIB years, each of those is fourteen Terran years so the alien is totally not underage and so on.
But, we can follow all three of these rules and still fall down easily. All we have to do is write a story about Steve, and how awesome Steve is and how we get a nosebleed every time we think about Steve, and this is probably enough to make any reader fling our book in the garbage. So, the last part is the dwelling on and this is the critical one.  Is the amount of dwelling on in character for the person doing it? Does the reader really want to be in the headspace of the person doing the dwelling? We could well have a story about Steve and his admirer where the admirer’s nosebleed-level excitement is present but not part of the central narrative. Then, we could let our readers into the dweller’s headspace for a short time to enjoy and/or laugh at their overwrought feelings, and still have some means of escape back to the normal world.
The trouble is, in a lot of cases the person doing the dwelling isn’t the admirer, or really any character in the story except as a proxy. It’s the writer that’s doing it. It’s not that Steve looks awesome to this single person, it’s that Steve is objectively awesome in the context of the story and the entire world really stops in Orphean wonder to stare at Steve.
So the final question – is “Steve is awesome” the point of the story? If so we have pretty much given up to the dwelling on and everyone who reads the story had better enjoy reading about him. Is “Steve is awesome” not the point of the story? If not, we’ll have to keep his wonderfulness from intruding too heavily or we’ll lose focus. This is my warning to the natural writer: many stories will start with a perfectly meaningful concept, and eventually arrive at the conclusion that Steve is awesome, having forgotten what they were originally talking about. So, however dishonest you are with your reader, be honest with yourself.

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