Trusting Your Readers to “Get It”: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Too Much Description

Reading is a participation pastime, which is sometimes difficult for writers to remember. Rather than witnessing a visually inflexible world—as with movies, TV, etc.—readers are called on to use their own imagination and understanding of the world to fill in the gaps. This means that, in a sense, releasing your finished book represents an act of confidence in readers as a general institution, thinking, “I’ve done my part; the rest is up to them.” Easier thought than done.

One of the more challenging things for writers to keep in mind is that readers are capable of understanding the point of an exchange, scene, or sequence with just a few well-placed clues. Particularly when a scene is loaded with action or some your loveliest description, it’s hard to admit that readers can get the point with less—and that whether or not less is always more, more is definitely less when your reader got it several details ago and is now getting irked at your verbosity.

But if your job isn’t to lead readers by the hand through all the technicalities, what is important to say? How do you determine when to say when with your own description?

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This Is Not for You: A Defense of Second-Person Narration

My name is Hannah, and although I didn’t begin this post writing “your name is Hannah,” I freely admit to (at least sometimes) liking second-person narration. While it may be a little too dramatic to call second person the dark alley of literary writing, it is a place where most modern-day writers of good repute don’t want to be found wandering—and not just for fear of running into whatever sketchy patrons may be lingering there.

Second person has many detractors for many legitimate reasons. Some acquisition editors of literary magazines mention receiving such an onslaught of present-tense second-person short stories that it becomes a “one more and my head is gonna blow” sort of scenario. I’ve heard the argument that use of this POV comes across as trying to strong-arm the reader into the action of the story instead of relying on subtler fundamental storytelling tactics to accomplish the same thing.

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