I have a tendency to write lean — as in close-to-the-bone. Take me as a cautionary tale. In other words, writers, don’t be stingy with the detail.
In my college days, I was compared to Hemingway from time to time, not because I was as good as him, but because I was similarly withholding of detail. I haven’t dissected why it is I’m so terse, but I have three off-the-top notions: 1) In my own reading, I prefer leaner prose. Florid writing makes me tired. 2) I am an introvert. If you speak to me in conversation, you will be doing most of the talking. This trait transfers into my writing. 3) I don’t outline. As you may have gathered from my previous entries on writing, I’m not much of a plotter. Since I’m actively laying out the story even as I’m composing my dialogue and description, I’m in a hurry to connect the dots. In subsequent drafts, I’m likely to add more detail, but I’m afraid it’s usually not enough. I rarely overcome the first draft’s sense of barrenness.
So, now comes the inevitable question: With the problem successfully identified, what should I do about it?
Sadly, I think the answer comes back to plotting — my Achilles heel.
If I have an outline of my story’s basic structure then I should feel more comfortable composing the individual scenes. With a strong idea of how each component interacts with its brothers and no anxiety about the ending I haven’t come up with yet, I can concentrate on things like scenic detail and character behavior. I’ve skimped on these items in the past which means I’ve robbed my readers. Sure, we all like a well-turned plot twist, but what are we really reading for in the first place? We all want to be transported to other places and, more importantly, we want to see how people we do not know think and feel. To me, those are the things that are missing from Hemingway, that sense of locale and clearly delineated personality. Truman Capote once said of Hemingway’s writing, “That isn’t writing at all, it’s typing.” (It’s a clever comment, although not entirely fair. Truman could be a little bitch.)
Regardless, it reminds me that I must always strive to be a storyteller rather than a simple typist. Remember: writers shouldn’t be stingy the detail.