Through narrative, lead us with nuance and innuendo for we can already see the land, the room, the crowds, the forest. We are programmed to visualize stories. We’ve all seen so many movies and shows that every possible setting you, as an author, could imagine has already been witnessed. So nudge us with your words — we’ll fill in the rest.
She’s tall. He’s not. She can fight. He can run. She’s stubborn, fierce, dark-skinned and gorgeous. He’s none of these. He possesses skills and patience. The child standing between them, peering down into the valley and its smoking fields and piles of debris, holds onto their hands. Their journey, directed by the child, has brought them to this edge, this next decision.
“Will we find it here?” the man asks, gesturing at the destruction below, his right hand wrapped in protective tape.
“No,” the girl replies. Her tire-tread sandals flap loudly when she walks, and the rags she wears smell of stale urine. She seeks and identifies the pool and its attached mound of rocks, both features large enough to be seen from their vantage point.
“Then why risk poking through the trash and the bodies of missock, and infected krek?” The woman’s irritability could be excused; last night’s disturbance allowed her little sleep.
“Tana, Vink, come.” The girl tugs their hands and walks down the broken roadway, her slapping steps muffled by the tangled jungle to either side. “We must help. I must help.”
Can you see it? Have you visualized the woman, the man, the child? The village below? the child’s garb, the man’s bandaged hand? The pool and destroyed whatever near it? The broken road and the jungle?
In less than 200 words we’ve been thrust into a story with hardly any description. Yet we can see it, feel it, smell it almost.
Perhaps prior to the last few generations, prior to 1960 let’s say, stories needed much more evocative description. We needed to be told what this scene looked like — in detail. Readers had never seen a tall Amazonian huntress, or a burning jungle village, or a child in sandals and rags, or even a man’s hand wrapped in bandage (tape?). Of course some had. And no doubt many could have read the above and deduced much.
But today? Every reader will have visually experienced all of the above through movie and television. This is a given. So I say, let’s use this common awareness and prior visualization to our benefit. Let’s leverage, in our narrative, the fact that everyone who might read our stories has already seen a craggy mountain, a rushing muddy river, a barren desert, a darkened bat filled cave, a closet full of toys, a thundercloud, an exploding starship. Sure some of these things will have special attributes, and those should not be assumed to exist, must be told and described. But in general I think we can skip much of what used to be required to tell a story and jump straight into the conflict, the intrigue and mystery.