Readers At Work

When you include descriptions of actual events and places in your story, the accumulation of detail begins to tell your story for you. Let it. In early drafts of narrative writing, authors want to explain to the readers everything that happened, why those things were important, and exactly what the reader should get from reading this. In later drafts let your skillful recreation of details show your story.

Showing works better than summarizing because concrete detail allows readers to see your experience and then make their own summary statements. When Kate writes, "He grabs the student around the neck, holding the head tight with the elbow and shoulder" we see the mode of control; had she instead written, "He holds the student so she cannot move," the writer would deprive us of visualizing it—and in visualizing it, we become more engaged and, in turn, provide our own summary or judgment: "she cannot move." Specific detail actually makes a reader work harder in a positive way. When, instead, the writer does all the work, providing the summaries, judgments, and editorials, readers become passive or even withdraw: "I am about to tell you about the hardest job I ever had. . . ." The judgment has been rendered and there's less to do. Instead, let readers enter into the interpretation of your story and actually find out what it means themselves. Recall how Jeff put us in the battery factory, Kate put us on the mat, and Stephany had us picking eggs.

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