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Know Jack #320 What to Leave In, What to Leave Out

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

John 21:25

No, you’re in the right place. This is not the Lost Crusader’s post. However, I have borrowed from his source to share an important point mentioned by a writer of scripture. When telling a story—what do I put in and what do I leave out—and still tell the story well?

Remember, we are telling our audience a story, and to do that, we do not need to tell every single thing that happens in our character’s life from birth to death. To decide what goes in, there are two things that should be on a writer’s mind. Who am I talking to? And how do I get them to see—not what I see, but what the story is saying?

I’m one of those label readers at the grocery store, so I’m taking us there for a moment in hopes of answering the questions I just posed.

If books were required to list their ingredients like food, what would you say should be the first ingredient listed? You might be tempted to say words. And why not? Writers craft entire worlds, even universes using only words. Words are definitely up there.

But there is one ingredient more important—imagination.

You might remember the sage advice every writer either has heard or is destined to hear. Show don’t tell. Writing is not so much telling a story as it is about showing it to the reader and having it come alive in their mind.

The writer has to “see” it first. Seeing is an act of imagination that requires the ability to break with reality. I was once asked on a podcast who I could write about werewolves and still be a paranormal agnostic. The only answer I know that holds water is that I have an imagination that can accept a man becoming a raging beast (it’s not that big a jump) that is capable of killing.

I have a vivid and somewhat warped imagination. That’s fine, but I’m not trying to get myself to imagine a rougarou prowling the bayou. I’m trying to get my reader to imagine it—to “see” it beneath the light of a full moon.

More than that I am not really trying to get the reader to see my rougarou, but their own rougarou. I want to conjure an image without drowning the reader with every detail. Close your eyes and picture a werewolf. What do you see? Lon Chaney? Oliver Reed? David Naughton? Hugh Jackman? Benicio Del Toro? Maybe none of the above. But you do see something neither entirely man nor wolf. And that’s the thing I want to get you to see with my words.

Words are a lighted match; imagination is gasoline! Bring them together and—whoosh you have a fire. Building that fire requires imaginative teamwork between the reader and writer. I don’t need to tell you about every detail of bone-cracking, flesh-shifting, gut-wrenching pain involved in a man transforming into a werewolf, just those details that make you cringe and see it in your mind.

After that, I just need to get you thinking—“oh no, he’s going to change” and let you take over.

The gospels have never told me all about Jesus that I want to know. They were never meant to. John is plain about what he was trying to do his account. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ…” the rest of the story we get later.


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