If you’ve spent any time around infants, you recognize how much of their waking existence is focused on where to look. Grownups look mostly out of necessity—for hazards on the road they’re driving, for the words they’re typing on the screen, for the next item on their to-do lists. Infants look out of wonder, delighted at each new discovery. Visual cues make for great distractions. Mom leaves the room, baby cries. Flash a toy in front of baby, and she’s utterly captivated.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, our job as writers is to show readers where to look. The entails first looking closely at our world, either fictional or actual. Knowing more than we tell, we then bring forward the most salient details. Look here, we signal to readers.
In the drafting stage, we may not know which way we want readers to look. But as we work, certain parts of our work draw attention, often ensconced in slightly elevated language that says look here. As we revise, the elevated language may need to be altered, even dialed back, but our subconscious has made its point.
As we hone our craft, much of what we’re doing getting better at showing readers where to look. Threads emerge, and we tease them forward. We set up signposts. Pacing, proportionality, structure, nuances of character and relationship—at the core, these are all ways we help readers know where to look.
Working our way through a project, we may revert temporarily to an infantile state of wonder. The delight in what we’re discovering, in what we’re seeing as if for the first time, infuses our work with energy. But as we revise, we’re mindful of our role of directing the reader’s attention. Where our points of wonder become distractions, we figure out how to better connect them to the whole, or abbreviate them, or even eliminate them in favor of the stronger insight or plot point or character development to which they’ve pointed us. To this end, writing partners and editors lend a fresh set of eyes to help us find our way, showing us in turn where to look.
Named by Library Journal as “one of Alaska’s leading storytellers,” Deb Vanasse has authored seventeen books. Her most recent novel, Cold Spell, “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds” (Booklist). Wealth Woman, her “deeply researched and richly imagined” gold rush biography of Kate Carmack, was named a True West “Best of the West” selection.