Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday Moods--Description Yet Again

Description should add to your story, not stall it. While I often fall in love with my description of a setting, I have to remember that my modern reader isn't here to loll in the land of my beautifully executed prose about the countryside or seascape or quaint town or whatever. My reader is here to read a story and story is about forward moving characters and action. So how can I keep up my story's momentum and yet put my readers into the place.

One way I've found is to treat the setting as if it were a character. Characters in stories have a purpose. They're included to act as foils for each other or as companions that reveal each other's contradictions or ambiguities. Setting can do the same things. Can you imagine Quasimodo hiding in a small wood framed church in the countryside? Isn't the imposing cathedral bell tower and teeming Paris of the late 1400's exactly what helps to make him and Esmeralda so memorable?

On a more modern note, Think how Louis Sachar's Holes would fall flat if those holes were in a lush water-surrounded landscape. Doesn't the desolate setting that the author describes add to the punishment that the delinquents suffer? I was thirsty the entire time I was reading that book and my thirst added to how much I empathized with those kids.

So how about rules for description? I'm not so good at following rules, but I love knowing them and I love being able to follow them because then I can break them real good.

Here are a few that I pay attention to while I'm thinking how to do things differently.

  • Include specific and carefully observed detailed. Example: the tree v. the thick limbed oak 
  • Reveal the innermost workings of your character. Example: She was cold and walked quickly across the busy street. v. Head down, hands shoved inside her pockets, she dodged the cars that clogged the crosswalk. 
  • Try to include different senses in a scene and never too many: His face was red with anger. v. His face, red with anger and his breath coming in hard pants, he raised both fists.
  • Don't turn purple. Leave "It was a horrendously evil sight" where it belongs--with Bulware Lytton's "It was a dark and stormy night."
  • Whenever possible kill the adverbs. They lead to lazy, unimaginative writing. Example: He carefully unlocked the door. v. He turned the key in the lock, but stopped with his ear pressed against the door before he inched it open. 
Now I think I'd better go write some descriptive passages and see if I can do anything I've been sharing with you here. It's so much easier to talk about how to write, then it is to actually write.

I'm sure you have some other ideas about description. If you have some tips, please leave them in a comment. I love to know what you do and I'm sure there are others who stop by who will also appreciate your insights.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday Moods--Adventurous & . . . still Crafty

"BREAKTHROUGH: “THE ADVENTURES OF CHASE MANHATTAN" BY Stephen Tremp, will be free for (2) days on Amazon June 18th - June 19th. Be sure to download your copy! You can visit Stephen’s Website Breakthrough Blogs for more synopses and reviews.

This looks adventurous, doesn't it? Thanks for the visit, Stephen and good luck on your book.

Last week I returned to the CRAFT of writing, specifically DESCRIPTION. I love description in a story when it's done right and creates the reality of the place and the people in it. But getting it right isn't easy.  It takes a lot of practice and, I believe, a lot of reading.

One element in description that I love is figurative language: the simile and metaphor. The biggest mistake I've made and that others also make is falling into the lazy cliché trap. "He fought like a madman." OR "Her eyes were deep blue pools." 
Here's some description that fell into that trap and, therefore, doesn't work--at least for me. I'll let you decide how you react to it. It will be interesting to find out if you agree or disagree with me.
He stood dead center in the field and listened to the mixed warbling of birdsong and the rustling sound of a breeze blowing through the tree tops. In the distance he heard the hum of traffic coming from the busy highway.
Whoever created the phrase "dead center" did so a long time ago. Any freshness vanished before I started reading books. So is there another way to say someone has arrived in the middle of something? How about, "He'd come half-way across the field." Not terribly exciting, but all description doesn't have to be exciting; it only has to put the reader into the place with your character(s), right? 

"Listened to" as it's used here is one of those overused/abused filter words that I find dotting my first drafts all the time. I hate them, but I can't seem to avoid them when I'm setting down a story. Thank goodness someone invented REVISION and gave writers a delete key. Take out those filter words and free your prose.

I always like a bit of detail in my description, and I don't like having to figure out too much of the setting or where the character is located in that setting. In the example above, we have a field, but then are there trees in this field? It seems as if there are, so why not give that bit to us? And why not give us the kind of tree. That's easy and it changes the feel of the setting. 
Why do birds have to "warble" and breezes "rustle" through tree tops? Couldn't birds sounds come to the page differently? Could they just be birdsongs? Could leaves in a breeze just be that? I think letting the reader fill in what they sound like is a better choice here.
So now that I've deconstructed this bit of description, it's only fair that I put it back together. This is one way I'd do it.

He'd come half-way across the field and stopped under the shade of an oak. The muffled drone of traffic coming from the highway was overlaid with birdsong and the fingers of a breeze playing through the tree top.

Okay, your turn. Maybe you'd like to DECONSTRUCT my version. There's more than one way to build a good descriptive moment.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Moods--Thankful and Crafty

My thankful Mood is all about my Mr. Linky experience. It has been great, and I'm now feeling as if I'm on my way to organized. I've set my book launch ahead a bit since there was a delay in production, but the delay won't be long. Thanks to those who signed up to give me a hand and thanks to MPax for all her help with Mr. Linky as well the emails of encouragement. Lee at Tossing It Out, Rachael Harris and Alex Cavanaugh will still be hosting me, but in August.  Julie Muslie will host me in late July.

Now on to my Crafty Mood. I've been so tied up with the business of writing that I feel as though I've neglected the craft. I need to return to that and remember that launches are not possible without actual writing.

One thing I've been doing a bit more of is reading and paying close attention to how the stories I really enjoy pull me into their characters and the worlds these characters inhabit. I love the fast-paced action and the tight dialog, but I also like those quiet moments when the author DESCRIBES the characters and the setting for me.

Description is an important piece of a story, and to bring that story to life on the page requires such skill on the part of writers. They have to translate the sight, sound, smell and feel of the people and  places so the readers have access to them, have a sense of what the characters look like, how they're experiencing something or being affected by it. And they have to do it without resorting to clichés--the bubbling brook, the attractive woman, the bustling city, the stinky socks or the meow of the cat.

Appealing to all the senses adds depth and reality and allows the reader more of a chance to really lose himself in the prose. Here's one passage I love because it tackles two of our senses to deliver up the character.

"Zalatnick led me into the shop not as if I was a fellow looking for a job but as if I was a friend of a friend. I was sure the men in the shop could smell the difference."

Here's Stephen King on DESCRIPTION: "Thin description leave the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium."

How true, Mr. King. The craft is all about knowing what to include and what to leave out. If the writer includes just the right amount, the left-out portion allows the reader to interact and become one with the story. This is such an incredible skill that I think I'll be focused on it for a while, so if you visit here for the next few weeks, I'll be writing about what I'm learning about DESCRIPTION.

What brought this post on were these pictures of spider-webbed trees, an unexpected side-effect of the flooding in parts of Pakistan earlier this year. It seems millions of spiders escaped the rising waters and stayed among the branches, creating these surreal images. When I saw them I wondered how I'd put something like this into words. My first try was to call these trees captured by smoke. How would you describe what you see if you were writing a description of these trees?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Insecure Writer--Me

This is a perfect time to post about INSECURITIES as a writer. I'm undertaking two new adventures this year: my first middle grade novel and Indie Publishing. Both scare the beejeebers out of me.

I feel very comfortable writing YA novels and dealing with YA readers' reactions. Not so with the middle grade. Even though I enjoyed writing this story about two boys on a swampy adventure, I'm edgy about how young readers will react. Will they like a story about saving alligators or think that it's too wacky? I mean, we're not talking fluffy kitties or puppies here. Will they find the "out-of-practice" witches humorous or too bizarre? You can see where the INSECURITIES have me springing all over the place.

And about Indie Publishing . . . I've been warned by one agent. "Don't do it!" I've been cautioned by one editor. "Don't do it!" That's a bit
INSECURITY-producing, don't you think? I was grateful to find this post by Nathan Bransford on the subject. It was so sensible. Still as I'm going through the process, I'm experiencing a whole other set of INSECURITIES. Will the cover work? Will it be ready on time? Have I done the edits right? Will I open page one and find a glaring grammar error? What happens if  . . .

I could go on and on, but I'm into short and punchy posts. I need time to nurture my INSECURITIES.

Anyway, I'm really grateful for the Insecure Writer's Support Group this month; it's therapeutic to be able to share all of this.

And if you'd care to lend a hand in my effort, I'm asking interested readers to sign up on the Linky below. I'll be in touch with anyone who wants to help me out. Did I mention I'll have a presents? Yes. I will.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monday Moods--Very Appreciative & Launch Party Nervous

About Being Appreciative

For some reason my stars lined up this year, and I won lots of things. Lisa Gail Green at Paranormal Point of View was wonderful and gave me a chapter critique during the RAOK Blitz. I so appreciated that.  Julie Musil gave me a wonderful book, Plot and Structure that seems to be chock full of great information. I'm already on Chapter 4, and I just started it. Thanks Julie. Then Stacia Kehoe bestowed Possession, Possess, and The Audition (her own book) on me. I have so much great reading to look forward to this summer. Now pass the hammock, please.

During that super A to Z Blogging Challenge, I had a lot of fun writing min-crazy fiction on Rach Writes Blog and she's given me a slot on her blog, so on July 9 I'll be posting an article on the category called New Adult. I must have been on a roll because I also garnered a guest post on Arlee Bird's Tossing it Out. So on July 16, I'll be there, too.

About Being Launch Party Nervous

I'm in that waiting room that writers hate. The book cover is almost done. The book is almost formatted and edited. The book trailer is almost ready.

The problem is that the writer isn't . . . ready, that is. Here's my list of To Do's:

1. Organize a launch (Notice how simply put that is.)
2. Buy aspirin.

That should take care of it.

Oh, and here's where I beg for help. If you have it in those writerly hearts to help me get this book out and about, I'd love to have you sign up on this Linky. I'll contact those who want to post about my book and give you all the links etc. If all goes according to plan, I'm looking at the last week of July for blast off, but from my past experience with this publishing business, I may have to slide the launch into August. I'll be sure to check with you as far ahead as I can.

I can offer cookies or cyber love. I'm also great at dog walking and cat sitting. I do windows, but they always streak, so don't take that option in payment. I will have a few presents to give, of course, and I guess that's item #3 on my To Do List--find presents.