Tell me if this has happened to you: You’ve got a little something — a person, a place, a thing — that you simply must describe in minute detail. You know, for the story and all. But the only problem is that in doing so you end up confusing your reader instead of enlightening them. Oops!
I’ve been there more often than I care to admit. I can become so fixated on one silly element that I not only tie my writing up into knots, I also end up creating the completely wrong image in my readers’ heads.
These days, most every story I write involves a motorcycle in some shape or form. Now, everyone can envision a motorcycle, so this shouldn’t be a problem, right? Wrong! Because I’m trying to describe a certain kind of motorcycle — the sexy, Italian off-road kind — that I end up flying off the trail and crash landing upside down in a tree of troubles. See, I’m willing to bet that the first thought to cross your mind at the word motorcycle will undoubtedly be the ginormously loud and obnoxious land yachts ridden by large, tattooed, leather-clad, unhelmeted men.
That’s not the image I’m going for.
Not even close.
I desire to describe the thin, suave, sexy, nimble, peppy machines clad in bright, shiny plastic, at home on a single-track gracefully weaving through the forest, not a hulking mass of metal plunked down in a sea of chrome at the biker bar. I especially desire to describe the foxy, little, red and white Italian number I ride. My inspiration. My muse.
I was trying to channel my motorcycle into this one story of mine. But I failed. Miserably. In my efforts to describe the Husqvarna logo “H” inside the circle with the three prongs on top, I ended up confusing a few in my writer’s group, making them think that my character was riding a Harley of all things. Never mind that Harley Davidson hasn’t produced a dirt bike since the early ’70s, and that those were neither sexy nor Italian. In some people’s minds “H” combined with motorcycle simply means Harleys.
That was a big failure on my part. Through my words I should have been able to impart my vision into their heads. But I had became so wrapped in that logo that I failed to adequately describe the bike looking more like a ballerina, all sinew and muscle, ready to explode in a burst of pure power, not as a hulking linebacker, ready to crush what’s in front of him through brute weight (or crush the person riding it should it fall over). I should have described the bike enough for the reader to hear the throaty roar of a high-compression engine sipping premium gasoline, not the “potato-potato” of a cruiser, or even the banshee wail of a sports bike beating its heart at 10,000 rpm. I simply needed to impart the thin, suave, sexy, nimble, peppy, brightly colored image and not worry about the logo.
Do you do that too? Do you take great pains to describe some minute detail that you’re positive is important to your story, but is really just as fluffy as that logo I pained to describe? You really have to stop and think: Does this detail move the story? If it doesn’t, out it should go.
In my case that silly logo was irrelevant. I rewrote that passage better describing the bike without spending more than a handful of words on the logo. I still wanted to leave it there, as an Easter Egg for the few who know exactly what brand I was talking about. But it was so quick, that those who didn’t care (shame on them) wouldn’t notice.