Sometimes we mediate our scenes by explaining what they mean for our characters, instead of letting the details do the work on their own.
Mediating is similar to abstraction — it’s another way writers use language to try to control how a story will be received and understood, instead of letting readers come to their own conclusions.
In other words, when you mediate a scene for your reader, you interrupt their own experience by telling them what you want them to feel.
Resist this impulse. You don’t want to explain to your reader what they’re supposed to absorb from a scene. You want them to absorb it all themselves. You want them to feel like they’re right there.
You want them to feel the meaning of the scene because the way you’ve written the scene is so direct, they can’t help but be moved.
To do that, try to keep your scenes detailed and unmediated. Trust the power of concrete, sensory images to transmit meaning for you.
An example of what mediating could look like:
Amanda whispers in Jaye’s ear. It’s obvious that Jaye doesn’t like what she hears.
How do we know that it’s obvious? We don’t get to see the clues that tell us that Jaye is upset. What did her response look and sound like? Did she stand up? Did she say something back to Amanda? Did she burst into tears?
Write those clues instead.
In your revision, look for where you might be mediating: explaining what things in your scenes are supposed to mean for the story and the characters.
I love the work of revising my mediated scenes, because it’s so doable! It’s like I just dropped a placeholder into the scene to mark where I get to drop into my imagination later. Unlike first drafts, where anything can happen, revising mediated scenes is manageable, so there’s no overwhelm.
To revise the above example, cut the second line. Now close your eyes and imagine Amanda leaning over and whispering in Jaye’s ear. Where are they sitting? What does Jaye’s hair look like? Now imagine Jaye’s response to the whispered secret. Look for clues in posture, tone of voice, movement. What clues do you see in the environment?
Show me Jaye’s response through scene. Whatever you describe should reveal clues about Jaye’s reaction, so you don’t have to explain it.
Get us to think to ourselves as we read: Well, obviously Jaye didn’t like to hear that.
Trust that your writing transmits what you feel, and trust that your reader is smart enough to pick up the clues and make meaning out of them herself.
And remember, revision can be fun.
Photo credit: Sai De Silva on Unsplash