How about a little writing lesson I’ve come up with myself, and am considering whether or not it’s good to share since it goes against the grain of what I’ve always been taught as an English major, and as a writer?
There is beauty in the vague.
I thought about this while I was talking to one of my friends this past weekend about writing. I was explaining to him my thoughts on poetry, and decided to spread my thoughts out to writing in general. Before I even spoke this quote, I typed it out on my phone to make sure that my thoughts made sense before speaking them. And this is what I came up with…
Poetry…no…writing in general…is not complete without the finishing touches of the reader.
And I hope that when I wrote this and thought this out, I wasn’t taking some other author’s words, and claiming them as my own. If I am, I’m sorry – I only truly began to make sense of this as I was having this conversation with my friend. I will give credit where credit is due if I’m told of someone who’s thought like this.
This actually goes back to the night of the last concert I went to in Nashville, TN, when I was talking to my Lyft driver about non-fiction writing. I can’t remember what specific topic regarding writing was being talked about, but I do remember telling him that it is good to give details to help the reader imagine things well, to paint the picture for the reader, but it is also good to be vague sometimes.
I know that sounds odd, especially to my fellow writers and English majors who remember being told countless times in creative writing classes, “Details, details, details. Don’t tell me, show me. Describe what you want your reader to see with vivid imagery.” And I agree, these things are totally important to writing. But I’m learning that being vague can also be just as important, just as beautiful.
This is the example I gave to my Lyft driver: I may want to write about me being in a park somewhere, but I want to emphasize my feelings and emotions while being there more than the fact that I’m at the park. Sure, I could place some proper nouns in there, give some vivid descriptions…
I walked through The Commons playground near the forest green and beige plastic playground set towards the swing set that was rooted in wood chips of different sizes. The city preferred the wood chips to the rubber padding that would cause less splinter incidents among the neighborhood kids, who would notoriously land on their hands and knees from jumping, falling, tripping, etc.
What was a pain to kids and parents all over my neighborhood brought some sadistic symbolic comfort to me. For I desired to sit on a swing, and swing as high as I could, kicking my feet back and forth, pushing me towards the sky. I wanted to launch myself off of the black rubber seat, fly through the air, and feel the stabs of the small sticks on the ground against my hands and my knees as I landed on earth, the pieces of wood stuck to my flesh when I’d look down to see the damage that was done.
Because that’s how you made me feel – you got my hopes up extremely high only to let them come crashing down, with repercussions so painful, they’ve stuck to me like splinters.
So, here, you can see that I gave some specifics about the playground, like the name of it, the colors of the playground set and swing, what kind of ground it stood on. Which is great, the reader can totally envision the playground, even though they probably haven’t been there themselves (okay, maybe they can’t truly imagine exactly what it looks like, but I’m trying to make a point here in a short amount of time, bear with me!)
But sometimes – I’m not even sure when I’ve done this in my own writing, but maybe I have – it may be best to leave the details out. Instead of “The Commons” park, just the park. Instead of saying what color the playground set is, just describe the playground set in general terms – jungle gym, two slides (maybe one straight, one twisty), etc. Now, why as an English major would I ever suggest such vague writing? I feel like a total hypocrite right now as I type this.
In this instance, when I want to focus on a specific lesson, situation, or emotion, I feel like filling out the details is unnecessary. Instead, let the reader fill them out for themselves for a deeper connection to their own story. Let them choose the park they’re walking in; maybe they’ll envision the one they have in their own neighborhood. Allow them to envision the color of the playground set. Give them space to put themselves into a specific setting they’ve created by the general descriptions you’ve provided. And let them take on the feelings you’ve described. Yes, you as the writer still have some control because you’re telling them what the emotion is – disappointment / high hopes that were totally dashed.
Now, of course, you don’t want to give the reader full control of the story if it is a true account that you’re trying to portray to them, like if you were writing a memoir piece. Reading other people’s accounts of their personal lives, the places they’ve been to, where they’ve lived, is fascinating, and inspiring, and I’m definitely not discounting that.
But I also believe that being a little general, a little vague has its place as well, and I don’t know about any other writers out there, but I was never told that being vague in my writing could be a good thing. I was never taught that allowing the reader to take control sometimes, and to connect in their own way with the words I write could be something powerful. And I truly believe it can be as readers can put themselves in their own worlds, but at the same time try to sympathize and empathize with the feelings of the writer.
And, who knows, maybe I’m wrong, or maybe there’s someone out there saying this already, and I have yet to hear it. For now, I’m gonna take this thought, run with it, and see where it leads me.
I hope that maybe this spurred some thoughts about your own writing, or maybe you have questions about why I think like this, or maybe you want to tell me your opinion on this matter? I’d love some feedback because in no way am I saying that I’m the English / writing expert here. Just sharing my writing thoughts with you all! 🙂 Please don’t hesitate to comment!
I must go, for sleep is needed when one must get up at 6am for work the next morning. Sweet dreams, luvvies!
💙 Mishy 🦋