Writing Selfie and Thoughts on the Amount of Detail We Ask Readers to Keep in Their Minds
 
My Patreon supporters will get their Thursday chapter later today, but I wanted to share this idea because I just had it and I think it's so important.

(If you want to tell me that everyone else has already thought of this, fine. But I swear that I would have read it somewhere if that were the case.)


So. I'm writing this chapter about Natalie's first day at her internship, because this is the part of the story where Natalie and Meredith's journeys start to separate; they're sisters, they've grown up in the same environment, and now they're getting these different experiences as young adults and that'll start shaping how they view the adult world. (Also how much money they'll make, but we'll get to that.)


Meredith lives in her head much more than Natalie does, so her chapters are always denser because she's always internally monologuing about everything. 


But this Natalie chapter felt really surfacy, like I was just skimming over the top of the story. "This feels like a particular kind of writing," I internally monologued to myself. "Like a chick-lit beach read that goes by really quickly."


And then I thought of how little detail I was including. 


I was providing enough detail to give readers a sense of place: "Natalie had rolled a cardigan inside her tote; she pulled it out as she followed Mike MacAllister into the rows of cubicles." So we know we're in an office and we know it's air-conditioned and we know that Natalie has a cardigan and a tote bag (not a purse). 


But those are all of the details I ask readers to carry in their heads. They can picture the rest of the office as they read, but they don't have to do the work of making their picture match up with the text. 


Compare it to this Meredith chapter: "The water looked blue from above but looked like nothing once you were inside, the same way it felt cold when Meredith first put her feet in and then stopped feeling cold once Alex laughed and said she had to put her whole head under the water, and then counted to three so she would do it. The swimsuit was a little too big, and Meredith kept one hand busy pulling it away from her stomach, feeling it slowly detach from her skin and make a floating balloon as the water came in to fill the gap."


That's a lot more detail. I could have written "The water felt cold when Meredith first stepped into the pool. Alex laughed and told her she had to put her head under. "I'll count to three!" When Meredith's head came out of the water, the water didn't feel cold anymore. It felt like nothing at all."


You still have the basic parts of the scene and you can still mentally picture all of it, but you're using your own detail instead of the detail I provide. 


I'm pretty sure it's harder to read something that asks you to carry more detail from scene to scene, because you have to put all of that detail somewhere and recall it as you go. At least, that's what I'm theorizing at this point, when I'm asking myself "why does this chapter feel like a beach read?" 


I've also made myself a lot of notes to add detail back into the books, especially sensory detail—and I've been taking these notes since the beginning, I didn't just start taking them now—because I know that when I write in a hurry, the detail is often the first thing to go. (I occasionally write in a hurry. Whose idea was it to give you two chapters a week?)


Because so many of the books I love are so richly detailed, and because I do know how to write it, and because I don't want to forget to write it, before I get to the final draft.


Anyway, that is what I am thinking about right now. 


Am I thinking about something that everybody already knows, or had you also never thought of this before?