If you ever get a chance to attend a reading or workshop with Ron Carlson, go. I can’t stress it enough: GO. I’ve only talked with him a couple of times, but each time I walked away with these amazing bits of writing wisdom. He has a way of saying things that make light bulbs switch on in my brain. A couple of my friends have taken semester-long classes with him. Their writing shows it, too. I envy them.
One gem I took away from a conversation with him was this: Don’t aim for the target.
In other words, don’t write your point.
Let me take a moment to qualify this:
- If you are writing an essay for English 101, then by all means make your point clear.
- If you are writing a story, write to the side of your target.
Sometimes when I’m writing (and I’m just going to assume this happens with you, too), I wonder, Is what I’m saying clear? Is my reader going to get this? I question myself, doubt sets in, and I move the aim of my writing toward the bulls eye, toward my point. I write to make my story clear. “You see,” I want to say to my reader, “she doesn’t know how to tell him the truth so she’s tiptoeing around him and making things worse…”
I can’t recall a time this was ever the right thing to do. Wait, let me think about that a sec… Nope. Not once.
When you write to make your point clear, three things happen.
- You stray from the voice of your piece, putting on instead the voice of the editorial commentator. (You may as well don a smoking jacket and write, “The moral of the story is…”)
- You stop enticing the reader into your story and turn your piece instead into a race toward the finish line. (You just have to get your point across. That’s all that matters. There. The end. *shew*)
- Your reader reads your piece and thinks, “Duh.”
Readers read to be seduced by your story. They want you to take them into that scene, into that world, into that character’s life. Reading a story is a journey.
And readers like to feel smart. They like to figure things out ahead of the characters and narrator. They like to know the point of the story without being told the point of the story.
When you aim to the side of your target, it’s as if you take your reader on a walk, and while they’re not looking, you slip a $20 bill into their pocket. Later, when they’re back home, doing the dishes or changing into their jammies, they find that $20 and they gasp. The light bulb goes on. Because from the moment they finished reading your piece, there was something there — a residue — that tugged at their subconscious. They noodled on it until that time later, after the story, when they understood.
They not only get your point, but it stays with them.
Your writing stays with them.
When you get that urge to explain, to make your point clear, trust that the story will say what needs to be said. And trust that your reader will hear it.