Saturday, February 18, 2017

Unending Description

Marci Baun suggested this month's topic: What is the description saturation point for a reader?

I have to admit, as much as I love good, emotive description, my description toleration is relatively short. I know unending description quickly becomes boring for me. What is its purpose? How does it further the story? What is the author trying to show me?

Once someone who knew I wrote told me she wanted to write, too, but she always got stuck on the plot line. She said she loved description, and raised a hand to a nearby window and became involved in telling me about the view, telling me that was what she wanted to share with readers. Her hand moved with the description of what she saw in a moving tableau of where she wanted to take a reader. She wanted the reader to see everything she saw and sensed, how the light affected the atmosphere and how it illuminated all the objects both living and nonliving; how the shadows could be mysterious, and all the details of everything she imagined. She was stuck on description, not plot.

Description is necessary in writing as the detail provides a sense of place and character, but I feel when any writing technique draws attention to itself, it draws the reader out of the story. When that happens, the reader often quits reading.

Good description attracts the reader in a sensual way since most description relates to taste, feeling, scent, sound, and vision, and provide keys that invoke the reader's memory. These experience reflections engage the reader unobtrusively in the story. If a scent is mentioned and the reader has encountered that smell in reality, their memory recreates a mental judgement whether it was a good or bad experience, bonding them to the story.

For me, description often works best when the author inserts a few carefully chosen descriptors into a sentence whose intent is other than providing description; a kind of fly-by that doesn’t stop the story but viscerally adds to it.

As with all writing techniques there are exceptions. Long descriptive passages are occasionally necessary because a setting is so sumptuous, so extremely offensive, or so strange, it needs an extended description. I believe one key to delivering this type of exception is to keep the character moving through the scene, giving detail as they encounter what needs describing, mixing character, action, and description.

Like many writing techniques, description is a balancing act between too little and too much. Too little leaves the reader unmoved, too much overwhelms. Description is necessary, but can make or break the story. 

Check out the following authors and their comments on description:

Marci Baun 
Skye Taylor
Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse 
Dr. Bob Rich
A.J. Maguire 
Rachael Kosinski
Diane Bator  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Strange Kitty Behavior

This is Andy sleeping with his head in a flower pot of chives. This is not the first time he has bedded down in one of my flower pots, but usually he chooses one of the bigger pots where he can curl up his whole body while disturbing the placement of my plants and redistributing the soil over his fur, on the cabinet's top, and on the floor. See the shredded plant leaf? Also a sacrifice to cat behavior.

Sleeping sitting up? This looks most uncomfortable. Does the curl in his back make it ache? Why is he doing this? I have padded cat baskets all over. Yes, the sun is coming in the window and is warm, but to stick his head in a bunch of onion grass? (Decimating the chives, too.) He is old, I don't know how old as he is a foundling, but could this be cat dementia? Today is the first time I've caught him at this, but now he has done it twice. Cats and kids: expect the unexpected.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Starting the First Novel

I have always read fiction, visiting the local library frequently when young, and then buying romance novels at my job at age 15 in a drugstore in my hometown. The store had a soda bar where employees could pretty much help themselves, and a book rack I loved to explore. I discovered the library didn't have some of the books sold on those racks. After about two weeks of ice cream, malts, and sodas,  I no longer liked ice cream, but the book rack always drew me.

Have you ever noticed how some genre stories are told and retold endlessly? I've read where there are only seven plot lines. This I think, is debatable because so much else comes into play in a story, but still, I think every reader has come across remarkably similar stories.

That started happening to me when I lived in Colorado Springs for a year. My husband got a job offer in St. Louis, but the kids were in the Colorado Springs school system, and we had a lease on a house. I remained in Colorado. I couldn’t find a book whose plot wasn’t a rehash of something I'd already read. Some publishers seem to specialize in this effort, even the titles being somewhat repetitious such as the Millionaire's Bride or whatever (now the billionaire's). To fill my time I started writing my own romance story. I worked on it every night after the kids were in bed. Finally the next summer we moved to the St. Louis area.

The novel I was working on stalled as I found a full-time job. I remember the characters, Gina and Wade, and the start of the plot line, but have long since lost the actual story. Looking back, I know this was a ‘hidden’ baby book plot, i.e. mom has baby father doesn’t know about for this or that reason. That was okay as I had started another story, this time in another genre I loved, scifi and fantasy. Actually, I’ve since decided all fiction is fantasy. I’ve said this before. It’s all about how dressed up in reality the story is.

At that time I mostly wrote for my own entertainment. Finally, I finished one and sent the manuscript to a publisher with great expectation. I never realized until I got my first rejection how awful it was. Not the plot, but the actual writing, until I reread what I had sent in. Certainly it was a reality check. The characters lacked dimension, and needless wordiness invaded the paragraphs. Suddenly I became aware of the importance of editing.

I refreshed my grammar skills (admittedly spelling is still a problemprobably a genetic thing) and read several books on writing. Then I rewrote that rejected book which soon became three stories. I'm not saying the original writing was horrible, awful, terrible as I had a very good high school that emphasized English, and I wrote many papers in college that earned good grades. Fiction, however, is different. In some ways it takes more thinking as the writer’s goal is to grab and hold the reader's imagination. Even in basically unbelievable scenarios (some real life situations share this characteristic), the writer needs to fulfill the reader's need to believe these scenarios are possible and real. Writers do that by allowing the reader to share the characters' emotions and reactions.

Writing a novel is a long and difficult project. Which is why everyone thinks they want to write a book, but few complete one. Even then, once the actual story is complete, the herculean task of finding a publisher looms.

Please visit the blogs listed below to see more opinions on writing that first novel and how it was accomplished.

Skye Taylor
Margaret Fieland
Heather Haven
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham
Helena Fairfax
Beverley Bateman
Marci Baun 
Judith Copek

Rachael Kosinsk
Diane Bator
A.J. Maguire