Don’t Leave the Last 10% Unsaid

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by Melissa Tagg

There’s not a whole lot I can brag about when it comes to all things domestic diva-related. It’s not that I can’t do things like clean and cook-I just don’t generally have time to keep up in a way that wouldn’t horrify Martha Stewart.

But one thing I can be at least a little proud of: I’m not a hoarder.

Nope, I do not have a problem getting rid of things. So imagine my surprise when I came across notes the other day from a work retreat I attended two years ago. Somehow those notes stayed in my work desk for two years without making it to the recycle bin. C-r-a-z-y.

But I’m glad they did. Because scribbled atop one of the pages was a quote I’d forgotten about. The quote: “Don’t leave the last 10% unsaid.”
The quote sprung out of a dinner discussion I had with several other attendees. I remember that meal so clearly-one of the best prime ribs I’ve ever had. Yes, I’m a true Iowa girl. The topic: honesty. And this one guy, the executive director of a Midwest rescue mission, offered this tidbit (paraphrasing here):

“A friend in my small group talked to me about how, often, we don’t tell the full scope of what we’re thinking or feeling-the whole truth. We give 90%, but leave the last 10% unsaid. If we want to be fully honest, we have to ask ourselves, what’s the 10% we’re not saying?”

I remember after that conversation, I found myself pondering how so frequently I stop short of that last 10%. Particularly when it comes to confronting hard truths, sharing the deeper things on my heart. Once in a while, I’ll recognize a niggling distance creeping into a relationship-and almost always, I see now, I can trace that distance back to stopping at 90% honesty, holding tight to the last oh-so-vulnerable 10%.

Stepping back, when it comes to us writers, I think that 90/10 theory rings true for our storytelling lives, too.

When we’re shaping characters, we have a wonderful opportunity to dig deep into our characters’ emotions, motivations, dreams. But it’s so easy to stop short-identify a surface feeling without sifting to the deeper emotion, noting a motivation in true GMC-style without fleshing out the dreams or fears behind the motivation.

When we slow down enough to ask our characters what thoughts they’re not expressing, what feelings they’re not acknowledging, what words they’re not saying-and when push them past 90% and draw out the last 10%-we’ll find ourselves with characters who breathe.

But it means we have to push ourselves as writers, too. No easy way out here…no settling for surface writing. We have to go along with our characters as they say the harsh words, do the difficult things, express the hard emotions…because that’s living on the page, that’s honesty readers will connect with.M Tagg April 2014

Melissa Tagg is a former reporter turned author. She’s the author of Made to Last and Here to Stay, as well as a current nonprofit grant writer, marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy and total Iowa girl. She’s passionate about humor, grace and happy endings. Melissa blogs regularly and loves connecting with readers at and on Facebook and Twitter (@Melissa_Tagg).

Comments 0

  1. Wow, Melissa. Funny, I’ve recently been reflecting on that same notion. We keep something up our sleeve out of fear of rejection or being judged negatively.

    But I had never considered it when crafting characters. Thanks for the inspiration.

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