Years ago, when I was young and clueless, my sister and I went for a walk with my brother-in-law (B-I-L), who’s blind. The three of us were strolling along arm in arm, with my B-I-L in the middle, when we encountered a huge light pole in the middle of the path. I let go of his arm and curved to the left to avoid it; at the same time, my sister let go of his other arm and curved to the right. Yup, my B-I-L kept going straight and slammed right into the pole.
Since we did NOT do it on purpose, we all felt terrible, especially my B-I-L, who almost knocked himself out when he hit that steel pole. After I quit laughing (It was sooo 3 Stooges-ish) I realized I’d learned a valuable lesson. Actually, I guess I learned several things:
1. Sight is a wonderful blessing which many of us take for granted.
2. You can get around most obstacles if you see them coming, but they’ll stop you in your tracks if you don’t.
3. If you have no idea where you’re going, you need a reliable guide to help you get there.
4. Don’t assume others know what’s going on, even if it seems obvious to you.
5. For people to see the world through your eyes, you have to make sure you give them sufficient information.
So, you’re probably wondering how this relates to writing. Or maybe you’re wondering if my B-I-L got mad after he recovered enough to speak: yes, he did. (And he still doesn’t think it was funny!)
I could clearly see the pole looming ahead of us that day long ago, but it was a critical piece of information my B-I-L was missing. It broke the flow of our stroll, just as a lack of crucial details can interrupt the flow of a story when readers must stop to figure out what’s going on.
We use the sense of sight to describe what the characters look like, to give details regarding the setting, to add suspense, to reveal clues about people’s emotions and actions, and to paint a vivid picture of what we want our readers to see. With so many visual images to choose from, we sometimes overload our stories with unnecessary details, but in other cases we fail to point out things the reader needs to know.
Our goal should be to create clear images with our words so the story we’re telling progresses smoothly from beginning to end. If there are poles along the way, we must guide our readers around them. Let them see the world through your characters’ eyes by having the characters see through yours.
What type of visual details do you think are most important to share with readers? Do you have any funny stories to share about something you saw—or didn’t see?