I’ve written in the past about how to develop a description that is effective and doesn’t just annoy your readers. Mostly, I’m studying various aspects of writing because I want to improve my own writing so that someday, I will be picked up by a big publishers and sell a billion copies.
Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that I will never write in a way which will make me a best-selling author and it is tearing me apart. Why would I say this? Well, because out of all the best-selling authors, most of them write in a way that sets my teeth on edge. There is one hugely successful author who writes books at a rate almost no one can match, and will soon have movies made from her books, etc, and I’ve tried several times to read her books and could never get past the first few pages. What is really weird is that I never knew she was this big-time, awe-inspiring, fabled author until maybe a couple of years ago (I would be like...N—who?) and I would pick up her books and just couldn’t read ‘em. What is really weird is that she writes in several genres under different names, and not realizing this, I had picked her up in her various incarnations (all unknowing) and couldn’t read any of her stuff under any of her names and didn't even know they were all written by the same person. I had no idea they were all written by her until years later, after I had already decided I would never buy any more books by X, Y and Z.
Anyway, the point is she is this awe-inspiring, best-selling author and in most of the writer “how-to” stuff I’ve read, they all hold up examples of writing either from her, or very similar, as “this is what you should be emulating”. The writers I absolutely love are not best-sellers. In fact, one of my very favorite authors is having problems getting her books published in the U.S. simply because they don’t sell so well here (although they sell very well elsewhere).
So my dilemma is: do I try to write in my way, which is not the best-selling author way, or…will I always be a low-level author? Oh, yeah, I’ve seen the comments: “If you’re looking for passion, this isn’t your book” kind of comments because I don’t have my characters jump into bed or spend their time gazing at each others’ crotches. I believe there CAN be passion and love without the writer going into detail about that and I don’t force my characters into anything. If they jump in bed and describe it, fine, but if they don’t due to…whatever circumstances…then I’m okay with that, too. It is not a requirement for a story and I find it alarming that this seems to be the sole deciding factor now as to whether a book is good or not. Really depressing.
More importantly, I don’t like all these perfect heroes and heroines. I don’t like excessive descriptions or flowery junk. In fact, I almost prefer to have no descriptions of the characters at all, because as a reader, I build up what they look like in my head anyway, and it is almost never how the author describes them—which means descriptions make this jarring sort of double-layered effect in my head. That’s why I keep obsessing over descriptions.
Here is a description most people adore:
Her eyes betrayed her, flashing a green fire reminiscent of lightning over a stormy sea.
Why don’t I like it? It stopped me cold. Lightning at sea is blue-white, not green unless you're talking certain circumstances and then it's this sickly sort of baby-poop yellow-green which is not particularly attractive. And why do all heroine’s have green eyes, anyway? (In my first book, I tried to toe the romance line and actually had a heroine with green eyes, before I grew totally fed up with it and stopped having ridiculously over-the-top beautiful characters in my later books. Never again. Probably. Desperation does make you do sad things, though.)
And what does this poetic description have to do with anything? Nothing. Does it say anything about the man who says it? Is he a sailor? No. It reveals nothing about him nor does it seem like something he would naturally be thinking. He’s probably thinking, “Damn, she looks pissed.”
As I try to improve my writing, I’m actively looking at these aspects. I’m finding that very rarely are flowery descriptions or overly gorgeous characters appealing to me.
However, lest you think I abhor all descriptions and attractive characters, not so! Here is part of a description I love and can find no fault with:
Miss Charing was a rather diminutive Brunette. She had a neat figure, very pretty hands and feet, and a countenance which owed much to a pair of large dark eyes…
The major difference is that there is an amused quality to this that appeals to me, and it is the sort of thing you can imagine the other characters actually thinking. I know of no one on this planet who would think, when seeing a pissed off—but beautiful woman— Her eyes betrayed her, flashing a green fire reminiscent of lightning over a stormy sea.
I can’t even imagine a poet thinking that—unless he was sitting down trying to come up with something…poetical. Most people when seeing someone’s eyes “flash” are thinking of ways to get the heck out of there. In fact, most men, when confronted by a woman with flashing eyes, are going to be searching for the nearest exit to avoid a scene. They are not going to be standing around reminiscing about lightning over the ocean, even if they happen to know what that looks like (and apparently this one didn’t).
I’m not bashing the author who wrote this (God knows, they are making more at writing than I am and doing a better job of it—and are vastly more popular and romantic) but I am…well…I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m trying to figure out how to improve my writing and NOT get slammed about it not being sensual enough, or romantic enough. (You’re right. I’m not romantic. I can’t stand that stuff and I loathe Valentine’s day unless it means winning the lottery and getting a new computer.)
There has got to be a way to improve my writing that doesn’t make me want to gnaw off my arm. However, I do know one thing, I’m going to try to write descriptions that sound like what someone might actually think under the circumstances. If it works, it will be a miracle, but it’s the only improvement I can think of at the moment.
Oh, and since I've a book coming out, I should add that it is absolutely wonderful and perfect, and anything I talk about like trying to improve my writing is just gilding on an already perfect work of art. Artists are never satisfied with their works of art, even though they are absolutely wonderful by anyone else's standards. It's romantic, too. Really. Even without the explicit sex. They DO kiss--several times in fact.
(Just shoot me, now.)