Leave It Up to the Reader


Hello, everyone. It’s time for Amber’s advice on writing that she herself has yet to master. I may not do this myself or rather not do it very well yet, but it’s still, in my opinion, something that I’ve noticed and found useful in writing.

As well as something I strive to add to my repertoire of writing skills.

So what is it this time? Allow me to explain.

Currently, I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals, a novel set in his famous Discworld. I have to admit with embarrassment that this is my first time reading anything set in this world or anything by Terry Pratchett.

There’s a reason he’s a best seller folks.

He is amazing! Or at least his writing is.

I’m kind of happy and proud of the flash story I wrote last Friday. I felt kind of smug like, I’m actually getting good at this writing thing.

But then I read some Unseen Academicals…and was smacked down to my rightly place as snot-nosed newbie.

I have a LONG way to go before I can write as smart and creative as this novel. I’m only within the first fifty pages and I’m already falling for at least one character and can admire little things that I find brilliant (metaphors and references to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet…I think they’re references anyways, I could be making it up on my own… which has to do with the topic of this blog post).

There is something in particular about Unseen that I find very interesting.

The writer barely describes anything.

Sure he describes some things, but a whole great deal of it is left up to the reader to imagine. Take this one scene where a character left a building and is walking back home. Though it’s implied he’s walking down a street, it’s barely described at all, other than it was crowded and then he bumps into another character and the plot moves forward. But the city itself is never described in exact detail. It’s all left to the reader. The culture and the way the people behave in this world is the center of attention, while how exactly that looks like is up to our own imaginations (Another example is that football is an important factor to the story, yet the goal posts and anything else that makes up the game is described in very few details and the story never slows down to describe any of it in detail).

This is really great for me because I really suck at description. This gives me an out! I’ve started to practice this little writing tactic in my flash fiction mostly because you don’t really have many words to work with, but I also come to realize readers are probably better at me than figuring out what things look and feel like than I can with mediocre description.

It’s amazing how much you can get away with writing or rather not writing. It’s gotten to the point where I’m now considering stories where the characters physical traits are described in high detail as a bad thing. Of course, this is not always the case, but now I see heavy description as unnecessary and something that slows down the pace.

For example, I once listened to the beginning of the audio book for Steven King’s Gunslinger and was very surprised and bored out of my mind by how highly detailed the gunslinger was first described. I kept thinking, “Didn’t Steven King get the memo? This isn’t good writing!”

But then this all comes down to “what works for some writers, doesn’t work for others, and vice versa”. Rule breakers and all that. Basically, the one rule that rules over all writing rules:

There are no rules.

But I like this rule, trick, tactic, or whatever you call it, of leaving it all up to the reader.

I mean, I like reading for a reason. I love using my imagination to create the images that match the words on the page. I suppose the reason this is hard for beginners (at least for me in the beginning…and even now) is because writers probably write for the same reason too: to use our imaginations and create things. It’s difficult to let the readers share in that. It’s like sharing your favorite toy at school.

But it can also be fun too. Like sharing your favorite toy with a friend so you can play together.

Now I’m gonna challenge you fellow writers who may or may not be reading this.

I dare you to write something with hardly any specific description, yet had all that’s necessary for the reader to make up their own imagine in their heads. Whether in your current piece or something new or whatever.


Cause I said so.

Now go forth and create!

2 thoughts on “Leave It Up to the Reader

Add yours

  1. This is just my personal opinion, but I think when you have a writer who is also an artist, you have to find a balance when it comes to description in a novel, moreso than just a writer. Because our natural inclination is to paint pictures in the reader’s mind with our words, whether its to describe a character or a setting, whatever.

    Here’s an example from one section of my WIP. I’ll leave it up to you to judge. 🙂

    Now striding across the threshold, onto the wide planks of the patio that spanned the distance from the restaurant’s rear to the line of the beach, Abby found the emblazoned sunset sky partially obscured by the fronds of strategically placed palm trees aglitter from trunk to top with tiny white lights. Orb-shaped lanterns, strung from the trees like baubles, offered soft, romantic lighting to all the patrons that had chosen to dine outdoors.

    Their table was located on the beach side of the patio, about six or seven places back from the stage and modest dance floor.

    Dan Marsh was already seated there when they arrived, sharing a cervesa with Mr. A and three other people. The first was a woman just into her thirties; tall, shapely, and classically beautiful in a low cut, light-blue blouse and jeans, dark hair secured in a loose ponytail and topped with a white summer beanie hat. The man at her side—standing with one hand in her back pocket and the other holding a drink, having just returned from a trip to Conch Cove’s open-air bar—was a bit older, but handsome to match, with tousled shoulder-length golden brown hair and tanned skin accented by a casual white button-up shirt.

    Ethan and Ava West; Mr. A’s closest friends and long-time partners in archaeology.

  2. And here’s a sizeable section I feel like sharing from a different much later part of my novel, which intertwines two timelines.

    Captain Wallace appeared the instant dream descended upon her, bursting through the doorway of Mateo’s former living quarters under the feral force of fury.

    Like a starving beast on the hunt, and she was his prey.

    Only this time, despite how real his touch felt, or how real he smelled—the charred stench of him inescapable, she did not allow fear to fill her when he seized her to drag her back out into The Golden Galleon’s main corridor by the length of her hair. She was past all that now; had accepted her lot from the moment the window had been shattered and she’d taken place of the chair securing the doorway so the others could flee.

    It eased her sorrow a surprising deal to know the sacrifice she’d made would not be in vain though, and she couldn’t help feeling a spark of pride to see the devastating blow Kathleen’s ceaseless determination had wrought the men in the end.

    The fresh burns marring Captain Wallace’s body made him suck in a pained breath with every movement.

    Redding was bruised, bloodied, and his movements were equally as labored, never mind how promptly he’d swooped in behind his captain to take her off his hands afterward.

    “Wha’s that smug look for?” he spat, yanking her hair from Captain Wallace’s tenuous grip and twisting her arm to near the breaking point behind her back. “Ye might as well have tied yer own noose. Luck won’t be swinging yer way again. Ye’re done for.”

    “They made it. That’s all that matters now. They won. You lost.”

    She flashed a mirthless smile up at him.

    Pain exploded in her head.

    Then, all of a sudden, she could see them.

    The girls ran hand in hand, down a dark alleyway with no apparent aim but to put as much distance between themselves and the tavern as possible; at full tilt until the youngest could go no further.

    “No, no, Graceie, c’mon. I know it’s hard, but we have to keep going.”

    “I—I can’t…”

    Tears streamed down the little girl’s face, and she started tugging on the fabric of her dress, as if the gesture would help convey the words emotion stifled; how its tightness reminded her of the trapped feeling she’d endured during the horrific hours Captain Wallace had her to himself—how badly he’d hurt her, both within and without. The only thing worse was the deep, uncontrollable sadness beginning to consume her over the loss of those who’d been left behind.

    “Grace, look at me. You’re going to be alright. We’ll take care of you, I promise. We can do this.”

    “No… We can’t… We shouldn’t… This is wrong… We just—we just left them…”

    She stepped forward and reached out to cradle Grace’s face in both hands, which were trembling and bleeding from cuts she’d sustained clearing Mateo’s window of glass. She swallowed several times before speaking so the intense guilt and regret she was barely containing beneath the surface wouldn’t show through.

    “We did what we had to. You know that, right?”

    Tears poured more heavily down Grace’s cheeks.

    “Right?” She repeated.

    Grace gasped pasta sob and looked down at her feet. “But—we promised… We promised we’d stay together…”

    “Don’t. Please—please just stop, Grace. Don’t make this harder than it already is. I—I never wanted any of this to happen, but… You must remember they did it for us—so we might have a chance to get home. There—there was no other…”

    Her voice broke.

    Tears crept into the corners of her eyes, no longer fooled that her actions had been anything close to righteous.

    But she cleared her throat a second late and forced them away. It was her responsibility to protect them now, and as long as they believed her intentions had been honorable—as long as they followed her, one day they might be able to put this nightmare behind them.

    “No other way…”

    Kathleen felt her own lips completing the sentence as consciousness slowly began to return to her; felt the odd, lumbering movements of her body being carried and lowered to the ground; her clothes removed; her smoldering body submerged in a shock of cool water, but the images did not stop flashing even after her eyelids fluttered open.

    Grew more hectic by the second, in fact.

    Pulling Grace into a hug.

    Shattered glass spilling across cobblestone.

    Three fancy dresses—their corset ties severed—strewn haphazardly across the floor of a shop.

    Roaring, stormy blackness.

    Harried screams.

    “Kevin! Oh God, it’s them! It’s them!”

    “Get back to the house now, Gloria! Keep my girls safe!”


    Gleaming swords.


    So much blood.

    Like a pig on market day…

    A pungent smell reached her nostrils afterward: rum, ale. The smack of it hitting the floor resounded to her ears, mingling with the thudding of her wildly beating heart and the shattering of ceramic.

    Waves of heat whooshed toward her.

    Captain Wallace and Redding were on their way to flee the tavern at last when a third voice called out to them.

    The voice was young, but carried a heavy accent like Mateo’s; at first shouting for everyone in the back to hurry before the fire surrounding the archway reignited, growing in short order to shocked Spanish exclamations and rage-filled accusations as he beheld Mateo’s blood-soaked corpse.

    “How did this happen? Who did this? Tell me now!”

    Captain Wallace turned his head in a sharp movement to give Jose a good look at his ruined face, gritted his teeth through a wince of pain, and said in the coldest tone imaginable:

    “Take it up with your bloody witch!”

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