Did what you meant to write make it to the page?
When I first started writing, my husband would read my work and then ask me why I didn’t put in this or that, or he would say that he didn’t understand the characters or their motivations. I would explain that I was showing how the character was or what was happening in the story. He would look again, read it again, and then ask me to point out where it said whatever it was he thought was missing.
It wasn’t there.
It was in my head. I had meant for it to be there. It had been fully my intention to put it in and quite frequently I’d thought I had. Somehow, however, what had been in my head never actually made it down onto the page. I would have to go back and rewrite or add to the scene ensuring that what I wanted to get across really was there.
I’ve recently run across this with a book I’m editing for a client. As I edit, I summarize the chapter I’m working on. I give the author my impression of what happened, what was important, what stood out. This author read through my summary and told me that I’d missed the entire point of the book! I’d missed all of the emotion, the protagonist’s confusion which led to his growth (which I also didn’t see). The author had left all of that in his head. It hadn’t actually made it to the paper or if it did, it was a minor note to everything else that was going on in the chapter. I didn’t see it despite the fact that I was closely reading the book.
The author was thinking this was my problem — I wasn’t reading his book right. In fact, it was his. He needed to rewrite the book to make those emotions, that growth more evident, more obvious. He needed to spend less time on the action of the scene and more on how the character felt about the action. He needed to add dialogue — both internal and external — to show the reader what was important to the protagonist, to show how he saw the events, to show the reader how he changed and grew.
To me, this issue emphasizes the importance of editors and beta readers — of having someone other than the author read the work and comment on it openly and honestly. An author will see what they want to see; they will read into the words what they expect to be there. Until it is read by someone who doesn’t know what is supposed to be there, an author cannot know that their intention never actually made it to the page.
No matter how much experience you have writing, it is vital that your book be read by someone other than you. And don’t simply take “it’s good” for their analysis. Dive down into what they liked and didn’t like, what they thought of the characters, and whether their actions understandable and logical. It is through questions like these that we will be able to figure out what got onto the page and what didn’t.
It is all there — in our minds as we write. We intend for it to be conveyed through the dialogue and actions in the story, but is it? Or has it stayed in our head? I do have to say that this is something that comes with practice. This is something that you get better at the more you write. After writing over thirty books, I rarely leave out what I intended to put into a story. It does still happen on occasion and my editor catches it. But for a novice writer or someone who has only written one or two books, it is essential to get your work read by others, preferably professional others.