I am what Patricia Wrede calls an intuitive writer
-- that is, I write by instinct and whatever sounds good at the time, and any planning or deliberate decision-making that may go on is done by my back-brain, without reference to my conscious mind. ;-) This works very well for me for the actual writing, but when it comes to feedback time, it can sometimes take me a while to parse for myself, never mind articulate to others, why I did a thing a certain way.
This has been a particular problem for the short story I've been struggling to revise. It starts with a couple of characters driving along; there's mention of the traffic and their GPS-type unit, but nothing about what they're driving past or anything else about their surroundings. Very nearly every person who's critiqued it has said there should be more description of the setting at the beginning. Now, I don't know how much of that is because they're embedded in that particular "rule", and how much is because they can't quite pin down what's wrong with the story and so they're suggesting the most obvious (if not necessarily the most appropriate) change they can see. I do know that that suggestion felt wrong the first time I heard it, and it hasn't gotten any more palatable with repetition. It wasn't until quite recently, however, that I figured out why: The lack of scenic description is a vital piece of characterization, and an integral part of the world-building. These are characters who aren't
going to be looking out the window and noticing the businesses and whatnot that they're driving by; they're going to be looking at their navigation device. Why would they look out the windows? If there's anything they want to go to, they'll tell the navigation device, and it will tell them when to turn and stop. And they live in a world where that's the standard behavior; nobody looks around, they just look at their little screen and it tells them what they need to know. Noticing that they're driving past a Starbucks or whatever would be wildly out of character for these people, and would break the whole in-story reality that makes the ending make any sense at all.
Nobody, of course, gets that. (Well, except for the housemate, who's coming at this story from almost exactly the same formative influences as I am, and a very few others.) And, frustratingly, readers don't tend to give the writer the benefit of the doubt -- especially readers who are also editors or critiquers or other people who are trained to look for flaws -- they just assume that it's a mistake on the author's part. In a recent episode
of Writing Excuses, they discuss how to make it clear that the weird aspects of your world are like that on purpose rather than just being bad science, and this is very much the same thing.
The answer, of course, is that you have to hang a lantern on it. Which should have been obvious to me, but I was too busy shouting "No no NO, why doesn't anybody get this?" to properly stop and think about it.
On the other hand....
There are a very few people who've "gotten" the story, and none of them have suggested more setting description. Conversely, the few people who haven't said to add description are also the few people who've gotten what I was trying to say with the end. IOW, there seems to be a direct correlation between my "target audience" and the people for whom the lack of setting description is just fine. Whether that's because they're understanding why
the initial setting isn't described, or they're just paying attention to other things, I don't know, but the correlation is there.
So now I find myself with a double dilemma. Should I signpost "I meant to do that" for the reader, where the lack of setting description is concerned? The accepted writing wisdom is that you should reveal your worldbuilding through your characters' behavior, not by spelling it out in so many words -- my experience is that that trick never works, and a part of me wants to leave the lantern unhung just to throw it in the gurus' faces. More importantly, I don't want to clunk things up for the people who do get what I'm driving at. At what point are you being non-obscure, and at what point are you just catering to the readers who aren't going to get it anyway?
And if I do decide to signpost "I meant to do that" for the reader... how? How do I make it clear that I'm not telling them about the scenery, not because I don't know how to write, but because these characters wouldn't notice
the scenery? How do I insert information about the blind spots of the point-of-view, without breaking the point-of-view?