by Megan Oliphant
So right now it's about 2:50 am, and I just got home from seeing the Twilight Trilogy at our local theater with my 14 year old daughter. (So I apologize profusely if this is incoherent.)
It was fascinating for many reasons, but what I enjoyed most was people watching (or people listening, since we were in a darkened theater.) Our crowd was definitely "Team Jacob", with lots of cat calls, whistles, and various other outbursts of approval every time he came on scene. Especially with his shirt off.
It made me wonder about Jacob as a character, and what made him speak so clearly and so well to so many. Or Edward, for that matter. Or Harry Potter, or Elizabeth Bennet. All these characters are from a book, but books that are so well known, so beloved, that somebody had to make a movie about it. Had to visually realize what millions of people pictured in their heads.
As a writer, that's what I want for my characters. I want them to be as real to others as they are to me in my head. When I first started writing, I thought that meant describing their physical appearance, so the reader could see dark hair, blue eyes, and glasses on an oval shaped face above a perfect male body. Or whatever. It took me a long time to understand that no, I didn't need to create an actual picture with words, I needed to leave an impression strong enough that the image could carry the reader through the scene, or chapter, or the entire book. I struggle with this in the visual arts, too, trying to be so accurate that when all that's really needed is a hint of color or highlight.
That's the type of thing we have to practice as writers. Creating hints and highlights, not a realistic photograph. We have to leave enough up to the reader's imagination that they want to keep reading because the story and characters have become their own. We as the authors have slipped into the background and let them step into the story.
Think about that this week as you work on your own writing. Are you adding enough to be clear, but not so much the reader is bogged down with explanation? Do you trust the reader enough to "get it" or are you so preoccupied with creating the "perfect picture", that you bore them?