Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, March 20, 2006

Teaser for Next Blog

This blog is really just a teaser for my next blog, which I hope will be on narrative and descriptions. I'm not big on descriptions myself, particularly character descriptions since they are usually unnecessary. Most readers build up pictures in their mind of the main characters without much help from the writer, and after a while, if the writer starts inserting descriptions which disagree with how the reader is building the character in their head, well, the results are generally a dissatisfied reader.

That's not to say some description isn't necessary, because it is. But sort of like a minimalist artist, you're better off saying too little than too much. I wasn't going to go into much here, because I intend to have actual example which I don't have in front of me right now, but I do remember one. It's from Sue Grafton's wonderful alphabet mysteries, you know, the ones like 'A is for Alibi' and so on. In it, her main character is a female private investigator. Because the series is done in first person, you never really get much in the way of description, which is good. I mean, how many of us go around thinking: Oh, I've got beautiful blue eyes, or looking longingly at ourselves in mirrors. If you do, I suggest a good mental health professional.

Anyway, one of the things I remember most about Kinsey, the main character in these mysteries, is a little aside where she decides her mop of hair needs a little trim, so she trims it with her nail scissors. There wasn't much more to it, except that you know that because of the time period and a little bit more description thrown in here and there, what she's describing is a sort of home "shag" hairstyle for a woman with wavy brown hair, cut at different lengths with nail scissors. Perfect. No elaborate descriptions, no mirrors. Just a note in passing, which is a great way to drop in descriptions on the fly.

An audience will actually read and digest that sort of description. It's the long, long descriptions (oh, say a paragraph) that I skip over (oh, my, did I just admit that I, a writer, skips over descriptions? Yes, sweetie. Sorry.) There are remarkably few descriptions that I don't skip over. Those all have some tone or aspect in them that makes the descriptions fun or interesting to read. For example, my favorite writer, Elizabeth Eyre. I always read her descriptions because of the sly wit and the fact that she makes even inanimate things like wind have purpose and personality. P.G. Wodehouse is another one who writes descriptions with a purpose and great deal of humor. If you don't read his descriptions, chances are good, you're going to miss a chuckle.

I don't read descriptions which are just "mood setting" or just...descriptions. They're boring. If they don't make a point, aren't funny/sly/witty or interesting for some reason, then I don't give a darn about them.

Of course this has also driven my agent to mention to me that I could use some descriptions in my writing. Hmmm.

So that's what my next blog is going to be about. Writing descriptions that aren't boring. That an audience won't just skip over because they don't add anything important to the story.

How's that? A deal?

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