Writing Secrets: What do reading and magic carpets have in common?

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

Specific details are magical.

That was the gist of my blogs over the past couple of weeks: give us just one or two specific details, and we’ll be transported to another time and place. That started me thinking about the nature of reading, generally.

The best reading experience is one which can draw us into another world. Our brains respond, so scientists tell us, as though we were there in the moment, experiencing what your characters do.

Does that mean, though, that we need to give full and lengthy descriptions about every character and setting to appear in your work? Must we paint them completely in order for our readers to experience them?

Apparently not. The best writing doesn’t do that. A couple of broad strokes, a painterly touch of significant detail – that will do it. Why is that?

Well, let’s first look at what it is about reading, generally, that invites us into the experience? I believe it’s the fact that reading engages the imagination more than visual media does.

We are onlookers to the lives of movie and series characters. The imaginative work has been done for us. We empathise, sure. We care, certainly. But we don’t live their lives with them.

Reading is active. It requires the participation of the reader. The writer creates the blueprint, but it’s the reader who actually builds the edifice. That’s why we’re always desperately disappointed when we watch a movie of a book we’ve enjoyed.

“But they don’t look like that,” we say, or, “That’s nothing like their house is meant to look.”

When you give us just a few, very specific, details which distinguish a person or a place, you create the hook that draws us into an imaginitive experience, in the course of which, we visualise them for ourselves.

I know all about that. As a rather pathetic child, struggling with dyslexia and feeling like an outsider, my two escapes (as I’ve mentioned before) were day-dreaming and reading.

Reading should be like day-dreaming. Sure, reading stimulates you mentally and seeks to understand – life, truth, the universal human experience. It says something about the world. But while we are actually reading, it creates the prompts which allow us to disappear into another.

Give us too many prompts and we no longer need our imaginations. It’s a more passive experience. We remain in the real world, looking on. Give us a sparing few, and you allow us to enter into a two-way imaginative experience with you, the writer.

You offer us a magic carpet.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Writing is the sea we swim in

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