This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and I’ve briefly mentioned it in groups that I’m a part of on LinkedIn and another writers blog. It’s the belief (mine, if you’re wondering), that it’s impossible to write about everything that happens or sensed in even a single location. For example, as I write this, I’m sitting at a cluttered desk with note cards, direct mail offers for Internet and television packages, a recharging MP3 player, an odd tangle of yarn, and a set of headphones, among other things. And I’m just getting started. I didn’t say what color the note cards were (no, they are not white), whats written on them (no, not scenes for a story), the texture of them (no, not baby-bottom smooth), and so on. There are so many details from a single object, character, line of dialog, etc, that you could spend forever describing that one thing – and even if you did completely describe it (did you convey the construction of the molecules and atoms too?) – you will bore your readers into a coma.
So, what to do? Anchorstones. I took the idea of touch stones, those items in our life that have meaning, and applied it to writing. Now, if you follow my reasoning, since a writer can not, (or should not if you think that you can defy the laws of logic), try to describe everything, the writer has to identify what he or she should be including in their descriptions.
There are two primary considerations, perhaps both being of equal value: painting the word picture and giving it the voice of the narrator. In the first part, the writer has to decide which details will create a picture in the mind of the reader. That is to say, of what is going on, with setting and characters – a sense of liveliness. If the scene takes place in a classroom of an urban school district, do you point out the sea of Hispanic and Black faces blatantly ignoring the teacher or the two white students staring out the window? Do you focus on the teachers haircut, broken nose and crumpled clothes? Or the classroom: well-organized, brightly lit and decorated with optimistic posters?
It depends. The author has to know their scene. The why of it. Why is it even in the story? What does the author want the reader to know when the scene is over? Why is the scene in this part of the story and not in another part? Why should the reader care? Knowing the whys will tell the author which details will answer those questions in the readers mind.
The second part, the voice of the narrator is also important. It’s easy to identify the narrator if the story is told in the first person, but what if it’s told in the third? Is it one of the characters? Is it the author? Is it a god? The writer should know the answer to this and color the descriptions appropriately. Each person will look at a scene differently, the combined effect of culture, gender, family background, educational background, economic status, and more, shape our perceptions and the words we use. Five narrators, if they are different individuals, should write about the same event in five ways that are distinct from one another. Their anchorstones are determined by who they are.