A lot of writers—especially new ones—tend to rush their stories because they are anxious to tell the tale, but in doing so, they fail to give their readers what they came for—to be transported. Good writers are also avid readers. Think about it, what do you love most about your favorite books? There may be a number of things, but in all likelihood, the author’s ability to draw you into the story, to walk you through the neighborhood, meet its residents and learn what makes them tick, and to have an almost tangible connection to the characters and setting will be pretty high on your list. When you’re writing, you need to provide that experience for your readers, and that requires you to put yourself into the story to look around, describe what you see, and introduce your characters through their appearance, words, actions, and the little nuances that make them three-dimensional. You need to breathe life into all of it.
The other day, I got a call from someone looking for childcare. I answered the woman’s questions and set up a time for her to come and see the daycare. When I asked her why she was switching providers, she said, “Lately, it’s the same every morning. As soon as we pull into the lot, Lily starts wailing. It’s a fight to get her out of her carseat because she pushes my hands away and after I finally get the buckle unfastened, she holds onto the straps of the seat and I’m forced to peel her hands off of them a finger at a time. By the time that I get her inside, Lily is red-faced and screaming, her hair is a wild mess from thrashing in the seat, and she’s wrapped her arms and legs so tightly around me that I could let go and she wouldn’t slip an inch. She’s miserable there and I need to respect that. Plus, I’m tired of going to work with baby snot all over the front of my shirt.”
The woman is a number-cruncher, not a writer, but she did a pretty good job of showing, not telling. She could have simply said that her daughter had an extreme case of separation anxiety or that her daughter wasn’t happy at her current daycare, but instead, she painted a picture of their mornings that was so descriptive that although we’ve yet to meet, I have a definite picture in my mind of both Lily’s drop-off experience and her mother’s frustration. And while that mom wasn’t necessarily trying to write an engaging paragraph, she certainly did.