Australian novelist Morris West, who during his lifetime sold 60 million books in 27 languages, once said: "[The writer] has to be the kind of [wo]man who turns the world upside down and says, 'Look, it looks different, doesn't it?'"
For me, there's something that separates an author from the pack, and that thing is the author's instinctive ability to ignore obvious descriptions. Instead of relying on the character's eyes, facial expressions or other characterizations to describe emotion, a truly gifted and conscientious writer finds ways to turn descriptions on their heads, so that the reader has a fresh vantage point from which to experience the emotion. These authors use things to convey emotion in ways that dynamically and emotionally enmesh them with the narration.
Done right, the readers are driven to create the story in their minds as they read. As readers' imaginations spark and emotions blaze, they are, in effect, co-authoring the unfolding story.
For example, a writer could have her character complain this way: Esther rolled her eyes, pouting as she spoke. "I was sick to death of being constantly bombarded with sensational stories in New York City newspapers."
Esther's characterizations show us her feelings, and 'bombarded' is certainly a strong, high impact verb that carries a lot of emotional bang for its buck. But now consider how Sylvia Plath handled the described sentiment in the opening paragraph of "The Bell Jar":
"...and that's all there was to read about in the papers -- goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway."
Plath turned the character's complaint on its side by describing the headlines and the places where the papers were sold. The modifiers she chose painted for the reader the emotional portrait of the Esther's feelings. Plath's descriptions allow us see and smell what Esther saw and smelled, and that makes us feel what Esther felt. Her descriptions invite readers to participate in the scene.
I love this quote by humor columnist Patrick F. McManus: "Write out of the reader's imagination as well as your own. Supply the significant details and let the reader's imagination do the rest. Make the reader a co-author of the story."
Question For Next Time: Do you think about your readers as co-authors of your story? Does doing so inspire you?
[Note: I wrote this article for publication in the June 12, 2013 Drama Newsletter on Writing.com.