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Monday, January 6, 2020

Visions and Impressions

The last few months I've had a couple of writing related concepts bouncing around in my head that can be super important for writers to understand but that are also rather brief and kind of miscellaneous topics. So I decided to combine these into this post: "Visions and Impressions." They are certainly things many writers past, present, and future have stumbled over, so they certainly deserve to be addressed.

Usually the idea for a story or scene comes in a sort of flash of inspiration. Or at least, that's how it often is for me, and I've heard other writers describe the same thing. You might have a flash of a powerful idea, a sort of aesthetic, with images, emotions, and/or words. As you work on it, you might get more flashes of such things, and a vision for the piece begins to coalesce in your mind and emerge onto your scrap paper or phone's notes or document, or wherever you keep such things. It's often a great feeling when this happens, like an epiphany or frisson.

This is the "vision" for your story.

It's important to remember this is not actually the complete, finished project. So let me say that again. This is the VISION for your story.

Because often what happens in the writing process is that you realize through drafts that certain ideas aren't coming together, something is broken, or another thing doesn't fit.

It's like reality meets your inspiration, and you realize that parts of the piece kind of . . . well . . . suck, maybe.

It can be kind of depressing.

And since those flashes of ideas were so inspiring, so powerful, it can be painful or sometimes feel wrong to rework and let them go. In some situations, that may be the case. Maybe you will fight to keep them.

But a lot of times, you have to tweak and change things to get them to fit, realistically.

I hate when that happens.

It sometimes feels like part of me is dying.

But remember, the vision was really mostly flashes of an aesthetic--general ideas and feelings that hadn't yet been crafted into your fictional reality. It's possible to stay true to the vision, the aesthetic, but not the specific concepts or details of that vision. After all, it was just a vision, not a fully realized, fleshed out story.

If we get too stuck on the details and exactness of all the flashes of inspiration, we probably aren't going to have working stories.

Stay true to the general vision, but not the details.

And now for the other abstract concept I've learned about.

Sometimes in the process of getting these inspiring flashes, we feel a strong, profound sense of emotion.

. . . which can lead to us overwriting that emotion or idea or whatever on the page. Because we felt it so profoundly and powerfully, we sometimes think it must be big and extravagant on the page to capture that.

This can happen with all sorts of things.

A scene.

Banter between characters.

A significant choice a character has to make and the internal conflict over that.

But a lot of times, the reader doesn't actually want that exact, drawn-out experience on the page.

Instead, they want the exact impression of it.

They don't want to read five pages of banter between the love interests--they may think they do--but in reality, they want to read the impression of that.

But sometimes as writers, because we are so wrapped up in it, we want to get deep and broad, and go and write five pages of banter, because we really want to create and experience that in the relationship powerfully.

Yet as the writing advice goes, sometimes "less is more."

I can't tell you how many times as an audience member that I got a powerful impression of an idea or relationship or experience, from a story, and then gone back and rewatched/reread it, only to realize that the actual moment is quite brief.

I might even scratch my head over it.

That moment actually only took up half a page? I might wonder.

But it was so powerful, it felt like it took up way more.

It's because the creator accurately gave me the impression to the point that I filled in and experienced everything else on my own.

Working with writers, I sometimes see them trip over this idea. They may love or feel something so powerfully, that they fill up pages and pages of it. They fill in everything about it.

Almost always, it takes power out of the reading experience.

Because the reader wants to (if only subconsciously) fill in the blanks on their own as a participator. They want to imagine for themselves that the banter continues off page in other places.

. . . unless of course, you are writing fanfiction, in which case often the point is filling in such blanks, but the desire to write that fanfiction would not have occurred if the original writer had not left enough room for the audience to imagine other scenarios and details in the first place.

Sure, you can fill in these blanks yourself as the writer, but it doesn't need to all be in the actual finished book. Just the impressions.

So, in closing, don't be afraid to be flexible while honoring your vision, and don't underestimate the power of giving the audience impressions.


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