Monday, March 15, 2010

Avoid summary

If you’re like me you want to understand what you write. You want to know what it’s all about. It’s your world after all. But we’re wrong. One of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote that writers don't always understand what they write as they write. It was just a passing comment. He said that when writers are writing well, they’re writing about something they can almost grasp.

Sometimes I give into the sin of summary. I want to summarize what I’ve been trying to say in a story. I want to make it clear. Sometimes when I do this, I’m being reductive in a way that harms the story. It’s easy to want to sum up ideas and emotions and insights. We know our characters, right? We know our world. We have something we want to say and of course we want to say it as clearly as we can. But, in fiction, often what you’re writing about, since it is played out in a dramatic fashion, shouldn’t be explained. It is best to allow your story to do what it does and realize that sometimes even you won’t know exactly what you’re trying to get at. You’ll ALMOST know. You have to just let it be.


Elisabeth Black said...

As usual, I love this post. I think you and I could be twins. Were you born in the mountains of Argentina under a blue moon?

Brian Yansky said...

I wish. Alas, the cornfields of the great midwest.

Vonna said...

At a recent SCBWI conference, an editor's comment on the first chapter of my MG fantasy was, "You don't have to explain the rules of your world; we get it." She meant that I had already included all the necessary clues so my one-sentence summary was redundant.

Brian Yansky said...


Know what you mean. I've moved into writing fantasy from writing realistic fiction with a few fantastic moments. I think in fantasy there's even more temptation to summarize because you want to explain the world.