I think I’m going to end the writing-stories-by-hand experiment

stock-footage-close-up-of-a-hand-writing-a-letterSpent today transcribing a story that I originally wrote by hand while at Burning Man. It’s pretty good! I think the story is one of the better ones I’ve written.

However, it’s also a little thin. Even when it takes place in scene, there’s not much in the way of setting or physical detail. Which is not to say I’m a particularly detail-oriented writer, but usually there’s at least something. Here, though it’s almost like I can feel my own frustration. I wrote this story over the course of what had to have been at least four hours, most of which was filled with a dust storm. And in writing the story, I think I ended up stripping it down to the absolute minimum that I needed in order to go forward. Every line of dialogue and every action is necessary. If it wasn’t, I didn’t write it, because it was too much effort.

And I don’t think that this necessarily benefits a story. You need more than the bare bones in order to bring something to life. You need visual detail. You need emotional reactions. You need to struggle to find new ways to say old things. Because if you don’t do that, everyone feels very flat. They don’t have that veneer of life that’s required for suspension of disbelief.

Of course, people also go too far with that veneer of life. They tart up their stories with all kinds of extraneous details: brand names; media preferences; daily routines. I think people put way too much weight on that stuff. They tell you that a person likes to play with Legos, and then they expect that you know them–that they’ve done all the work of creating a portrait of a methodical, process-driven individual, when, really, they’ve done nothing of the story (since all kinds of crazy, scattered people love to play with Legos). So I’m not saying that this stuff is the essence of a story. It’s really only maybe 15 or 20% of the story. But it’s a 15 or 20% that you really need, and if you leave it out of the first draft then it’s a huge pain to try to put it in a later one.

(On a sidenote, does that hand look like a brown person’s hand to you? I spent awhile searching for stock images of a brown hand holding a pen, and in the end I found myself no longer able to tell the difference between the various shades.)