Archive: May 8th, 2010

Good Writing is About Discovery

Let me ask you a question.

Do you like being told what to do? Or do you prefer making your own decisions?

I wrote recently, when discussing the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule, that writing is about taking the reader on a voyage of discovery

The minute I typed that, my fingers paused on the keyboard in a “That’s really profound” moment. (Okay, kind of profound.)

I don’t know about you, but the things I most enjoy reading are not posts, books, or articles that simply tell me things. I don’t so much enjoy the bullet-post lists, or the informative articles that sound like lectures. They have their uses, and I’m not saying they’re bad … and certainly, I’ve written them myself … but they’re not my favorites.

The things I enjoy reading are the things that take me along for a ride. It can be a story, a murder-mystery, an article explaining why certain types of red dye are so valuable, or why a certain shampoo is the best for my hair–the genre doesn’t matter.

What makes a difference, what makes me enjoy reading some things more than others, is the EXPERIENCE.

When a writer frames an article  by asking a question at the beginning, and then leading me through the quest to find the answer, I get swept up in the adventure.

When a writer presents me with a mystery and then helps me, step by step, discover the solution, I feel involved.

When a writer takes me to a place that feels real and makes me ask the questions I need to ask, I feel like I was there.

It’s easy to lecture. (I’m doing it right now.) But there’s a reason those old J. Peterman catalogs were so popular. They didn’t just tell you “This is a silk blouse with a flower print.” They wove an exotic story that took you to a place, an image, an idea. They drew you in and let you explore the image of an Arabian bazaar, or a British country house on a warm summer day.

The best kind of writing takes the reader on a voyage of discovery. The kind where you find a better world, or just a better shampoo. The kind where you see the person you want to be, with the lifestyle you want to have.

The kind that reawakens that little child you used to be who looked at the world with wide eyes, asking “Why?”, back when everything was new.

Isn’t that the kind of writer you want to be?

Taking people along on the journey is so much better than just showing them the photographs after you’re back home.