Tales and Details
Great fiction writers are some of the best magicians of our time. With a wave of their pens and some magic words – Presto! – the faeries suddenly dance and sway to the swirling voice of the wind as it passes through trees in the heart of the glade one Summer day. "Not to your liking?" with a flick of the wrist, a planet stops spinning and bursts open like a party popper, raining streaks of bits and rockets unto an unsuspecting sun.
The fiction writer makes the practice of story telling look so easy. Not only do they create such rich and fanciful worlds, but they let the reader feel and experience these worlds as if they were there themselves. Powerful writing has inspired many souls to take up the pen and each time it has challenged them to keep building worlds anew. Although, perhaps due to lack of opportunity or lack of experience, the words of weaker writers often don’t carry the same charm nor deliver the same impact onto other readers. Aside from a brilliant moment or two, at best, their works on the whole feel flat, and often, only the kind eyes and ears of friends and family are captive enough to go through these works.
I wish to help. I wish to do so by sharing where, I think, some of the power of strong writing comes from; detail and persuasion. I do this in the hopes that some of these ideas may help other writers articulate their stories differently and hopefully this information will be useful in making more stories on Neopets seem more alive and inviting. Lastly here’s hoping that this article can spark a discussion on the topic of writing and submitting on Neopets.
It's All in the Detail:
I’d like to think that, at some point in our lives, we’ve all read something to the effect of:
"Now everything was chaos," "Simply inspiring," or, a personal favorite, "Bad people are evil".
A writing style like this has no place in fiction because it can not evoke the reader’s imagination nor does it respect their ability to think and infer. More often than not, a story relying heavily on this way of writing produces something bland that is neither interesting nor memorable. The problem, with concepts, such as "chaos, everything, love" the reduction of ideas with words like "simply, clearly, good, bad," and adjectives, is that these words are vague. This lack of concreteness makes it hard for stories to take shape; in both the reader’s mind and the writer’s. It’s harder to think of, let’s say, happiness compared to say a spoon with a bit of grease on the tip. It’s also easier to imagine how that spoon is being scratched in a frying pan by a man trying to scrape some eggs compared to a Kacheek being happy. Vivid stories can only grow and flourish within carefully used details and nuance.
Being as specific as possible also gives the writer another power; it lets them imply ideas. This space in-between-the-lines, as it were, allows the reader to imagine and provide depth to the writing that words themselves can’t hope to express as well. Consider this sample passage:
A faded book collecting dust in the upper left-hand shelf is being watched by an old man from a lazy boy. He stands up, and walking over towards the shelf, reaches up for it. As his fingers inch closer towards the base of the spine, he stops. A light puff of air and dust rush out from the seat and the man looks up once again.
Why is the book dusty? Why is it in the upper left-hand shelf? Why is the old man sitting in a lazy boy? By supplying the details, the reader is free to ask questions like these and deepen their engagement with the story. Lastly, this text can communicate more than the words available in the passage. Was it fear that stopped the old man? Regret? Hatred? Without ever using any of the words themselves, these thoughts and notions are present and can surface from the soil of details.
To summarize, a story is grown and built up from details. This makes the story easier to write and construct for the writer and also makes it easier to follow and imagine for the reader. Details can flourish by strictly restricting and reducing the use of sentences which rely on concept words, adjectives and oversimplifications to carry most of the information.
Then there are the works of fiction that aren’t shy and aren’t afraid to tell you what they’re all about. They’re not subtle about it either, often shoving themselves or their "message" in your face. Powerful stories don’t dictate to the reader what to believe, it gets them believing it all on their own.
It starts with a strong invitation in the form of a captivating introduction. This introduction will get the reader to think, "Maybe there is something here worth reading." If the reader accepts the invitation, the story shows them to a front row seat and lets them get comfortable in it. While they’re shifting and settling, they are given the space to apprehend the world; perhaps its structures, its climates or the time it was set in. It gives them a proper glimpse into the people or objects of importance, slowly unfolding (or at best, leaving one wondering) and before the reader has a chance to notice, they’ve already been taken far from the start.
To break it down, a persuasive writer, from the very start, will put their best foot forward and try their best to get the reader to suspend their disbelief. On the other hand, a less experienced one will just expect its readers to believe what they’re saying. Consider:
In the far-away town of Blancheton lived Taylor the knight. He was mighty strong and mighty chivalrous. Being bored, he decided one day to go on a wild adventure, hoping to slay the evil wizard and get his treasure. Short of just outright saying, he’s also the best man in on the land.
But, as a reader, why should I believe that? Even more important, so what? How do we know Taylor has those qualities or if he’s even a knight at all? Why should I give this piece more time than I already have? This is what I mean when a story just expects its reader to roll with it from the start. It throws information at you without explaining or building up to it, feeling more like a textbook entry than a story. Again, at best, only the nice will stay and carry-on reading but most will likely just tune the story out altogether.
A better way to persuade an audience to keep on reading is to make the characters relatable. This means trying to make them as close to grounded reality as possible. Even if the character happens to be a ladybug talking to a leaf or an alien from Kromakon Andromeda 6 visiting a far-away galaxy, these characters have to feel human. Then, their humanity is tested by putting them in realistic situations where they can react or interact. At any point in which a character has to make a choice, consider that as a possible test. How the character responds to that situation will reveal much more about who they are and better convince the reader as they follow them through a tangible journey; more than a few dictated phrases ever could at least. Consider this different telling of Taylor’s story:
Taylor tried to steady the panicked horse but barrels of grain and grapes soon lay scattered in the mud in the middle of the road. The horse breaks loose and dashes away. As he was turning to leave the perished goods himself, a villager crashes into a felled barrel and lays unconscious at Taylor’s feet.
Hundreds of arrows whistle through the air as each race to collide through windows and wood. Through horse and flesh. Rubbing his temples and screaming at the sky, Taylor darts to prop the carriage to serve as a barrier between them and the cavalry’s advance. Amidst the hail of arrows knocking, he kept on pushing; using the last of his strength to hold the carriage steady.
To conclude, let me end with another story. A magician tells an onlooker that there was once a man known as the human aquarium. It was said that he had gotten the name for housing more than 20 different species of various fish and frogs in his stomach. That person – was me.
Let me show you.
The magician takes out a glass of water and drinks in a steady stream. In his haste, he gags. He closes his eyes, beats on his chest and coughs. Through the coughing, something white emerges from his mouth and into the glass. A frog now swims within it.
Like the magician, we must be very meticulous if we want our audience believe our story. We hook them in with something new, a tale they’ve never heard, or with something viewed from a different perspective, a human as an aquarium. We show them just the glass and the drink but we leave them to wonder about the trick; the details underneath the surface.