The Trouble with From Our Head to the Paper

Sunday, March 29, 2015
by Guudmorning! (
Why do we writers have so much trouble getting the words and story from our heads to the paper? Wait, you're not sure if you have this problem? Well, read this scenario and see if this has ever happened to you!

Esmerelda, a published author of short stories and essays, is working on her first novel, and she takes it to her critique group for the first time. She is very excited to receive their feedback, and they give positive comments about the concept, the opening page, and maybe even the dreamy hero. But there are also a lot of questions. Why did the heroine react in a certain way? What happened after the lights went out? Where did the dog come from?

At first, Esmerelda thinks that something has happened to her critique group. They must have lost their minds or barely read her work. The heroine grew angry because her sister continues to take advantage of her good nature. That is right on page 3 at the top. And when the lights went out? She heard a noise coming from the kitchen, which scared her to go on the balcony and see the hero for the first time. It's right there on page 12. The dog? That cutie came from the Humane Society where she volunteers on Sunday mornings--see page 15.

Her critique group members are smiling at her, and the bravest of the bunch says: "Um, Esme, none of those facts are actually on the page."

Esmerelda snatches her manuscript from the grasp of her critique group member and scans the pages, turning red from embarrassment. "Well, I THOUGHT I put those things in there. I mean, they were in my head."

I bet now you're nodding along with Esmerelda. How does this happen to us? How does this happen EVEN after we've had success with previously published work? I bet if we could interview J. K. Rowling, she would admit that it happens to her, too.

As writers, we see our story world in our heads so clearly and know exactly how our characters would react in a situation. But we have to create that picture for our readers, too. They don't have our story world in their heads. They need to be shown the world and our characters, so they understand the plot and motivation of the characters.

This is hard! We all know what happens if we overdo it in this department. We get complaints that our pacing is slow or that we are talking down to our reader. This is the importance of a good critique group or trusted beta readers. You can be the most careful writer, in my opinion, and STILL suffer from the "I thought it was on the page" syndrome. It's okay. It's natural. It's part of the job, but find some readers--whether you are going to be self-publishing or seeking traditional publication--to make sure that you fix this problem the best you can before your book is on the shelf.

Margo L. Dill, a published author of books for kids and teens, teaches novel writing for WOW! Her next class, Writing a Children's or Young Adult Novel starts April 15. Check out her other classes on our classroom page: 


Angela Mackintosh said...

This is a great example, Margo! I've experienced a similar situation at a writer's group where they didn't get what was going on in my first chapter and assumed things based on the actions of my character. Because she had a stiff drink during the first chapter they assumed she was an alcoholic, which really had nothing to do with her motivations. I revealed those motivations in the next chapter because I thought it would be more creative that way, but it just left readers confused and frustrated. LOL

Lily Iona MacKenzie said...

It IS hard. Thanks for articulating it for us!

Margo Dill said...

@Angela: I feel your pain. I should have mentioned that too, probably. If readers are confused, it is our job to fix the story so they are not! :)

@Lily: Thanks for stopping by.

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