Here’s what not to do: Don’t try to solve these mysteries. As writers, we’re not looking to provide a lesson, or a moral; we’re not therapists looking to cure our characters of pain or neurosis. Our job, as writers, is simply to render what is using precise, concrete detail.
Don’t tell us why something is, show us how it is.
Don’t give us easy answers. Rather, help us understand the precise nature of the questions.
This notion of rendering mysteries that are deliberately left unresolved can be a difficult thing for beginning writers to accept, especially those people who are uncomfortable with ambiguity and who seek neat emotional resolutions and tidily wrapped-up plot lines. “For such people, fiction can be very disturbing, for the fiction writer is concerned with mystery that is lived,” wrote O’Connor.
I went back and reread Alice LaPlante this fall, after many, many years away. A return to first principles, perhaps. Every time I read her book different sections take on prominence. When I started taking writing workshops, I was told over and over that I was too enigmatic, too vague; I kept too much of the story in my head, and readers aren’t psychic doncha know. Fast-forward through a lot of graduate-level essay writing, of spelling out explicitly what I’m trying to prove, and I think I now have to watch myself for a tendency to overstate. In drafting I often double up on verbs and adverbs, as if trying to exactly convey my character in that moment, every nuance of their body language and tone. I have a terror of being misunderstood, which has only gotten worse in this political climate. This was a useful reminder that it’s not so much about specificity as about where that specificity best serves the story.