Long ago I learned a valuable life lesson: Not everyone gives good driving directions, not everyone receives driving directions well.
You can Learn Writing Lessons From Life
As I was just starting out driving (I told you, it was long ago), I didn’t really understand. Then I got lost. I had to pull over and ask someone where to go. Those words stuck in my head. I asked the guy through my window where to go and he said:
“Welp, whatcha wanna do is turn back the way you came and head the opposite way, then when you see the large tree that’s gonna fall in the road, turn left. Can’t miss it.”
Except that didn’t work out very well. If I turn around and then head the opposite way, I’d be going the direction I am now. I knew what he meant of course, so I turned around and started looking for a large tree about to fall into the road. I never saw it.
Once again I rolled my window down and the nice lady explained to me where to go, gave me serious landmarks to look for along the way, laughed and then drew me a little map on a napkin. I followed her strong words and the visual aid she handed me (maple syrup stain and all) and found the road I needed to turn on.
That’s when I saw this large tree that was about to fall into the road. It was actually a branch that was tangled in the power lines overhead.
Giving Driving Directions (And Taking Them) Is a Two-Way Street
I became aware of the idea of being able to give directions and the ability to receive them.
From that moment on, I started giving directions in a whole new way. I would drawing maps if I could, making sure large, easily visible landmarks were included, and asked the person if that was clear and if they understood.
I also started taking directions in a new way, I asked questions, asked for clarification, repeated the directions back and made sure I had it right.
Writing is Giving Directions, Reading is Taking Directions
Writing books is no different. You are giving directions. The reader is receiving them. As a writer, it is your job to tell a story, but it is your duty to explain a tale. You cannot afford to send your readers after a large tree they can’t miss seeing when the truth is that ‘large’ is subjective and a branch isn’t a landmark.
Give the reader enough to fully understand where they are going. Be sure to include enough side information to give them landmarks to enjoy along the way.