Showing what happened is not telling the story

As I’ve mentioned before I have a tendency to say too much and write condescendingly to the reader. Am I trying to show off my knowledge on a subject when it has only a fleeting relevance to the story at hand? 

There is “what happened” and then there is “the story”. If I write only what happened then the story is lost. 

Comparing the two is like comparing the works of the two Australian World War I photographers; George Wilkins and Frank Hurley. Wilkins’ photographs are encyclopedic; bursting with facts and showing the absolute truth. 

Lt James P Quinn


Hurley’s on the other hand were described as “lies” by the pair’s commander Charles Bean (a comment one would expect from a historian). But Hurley’s photographs depict the scene with an intrinsic truth that combines the scene itself with the human mind that perceives it. Hurley used what was at the time referred to as “darkroom tricks” to conjoin several different photographs; using the sky from one photograph with the foreground of trench scene of another. The end result is an image that more truthfully portrayed how the moment was felt by the photographer or the subject. 

Hurley’s photograph “Over the top” depicts Australian soldiers charging from trenches while combat aircraft fly overhead in a sky filled with smoke from shrapnel and bomb explosions. On the picture’s right, smoke issues from a crashed plane. 

Frank Hurley - Over the top

Frank Hurley's Over the top


I need to follow Hurley’s lead in my creative writing and let go of the minute detail; take a step backward and fix myself inside the mind of my characters; and see the scene tainted by their feelings, values, and desires. 

An idea on how to achieve this is to begin by writing what happens; a script almost. This scripting must also include details about how I plan to lead the reader’s mind; setting them up to be surprised; what I’m not telling them. When this plan is clear I can then set aside time each day to retreat into the character’s mind/world and just write –  not having to worry about the larger picture or setup. The plan would include rules such as “don’t mention the war” or “throw in a moment of self-doubt here”.

So what do you think?

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