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As I continue to edit my work in progress and think about meeting readers’ expectations, especially when it comes to descriptive writing, I recently came across and interesting review of Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read, “a book that explores how people imagine and remember the things they read.”
I’ve always been loath to write (and dislike reading) detailed descriptions of characters and settings. I’m OK with details that surface as the story progresses when they are relevant, but one of the fastest ways for me to lose interest in a book or story is a front-loaded block of description sentences which have no other purpose, and an abundance of adjectives and adverbs. She was tall and had green eyes. She stepped over the puddles with her long legs while smiling at Bob, showing off her perfect, white teeth… Ugh.
I think about writing like I think about long distance biking. I (used) to do a century (100-mile) bike ride about once every other month and even tried a double century (but only made it 172 miles ). Tour de France rider I am not.
The analogy is this: Writing is a long-haul exercise, just like any endurance sport. And if you are into endurance sports you know you are going to hit really bad times along the way. It’s going to happen. You have to be ready for it, or you will give up when you hit the hard times.
At the risk of provoking the popular vs. good debate, aspiring writers who wish to write well should study the novels that have endured (let’s call them the works of “masters” for this discussion), not the forgettable books on the top 10 bestseller list this week.
Free Indirect Discourse (also called Free Indirect Speech) seems a clunky mouthful, but it is also a powerful tool to make your writing more intimate when used in proper measure. Wikipedia says: “What distinguishes Free Indirect [Discourse; FID for short] from normal indirect speech is the lack of an introductory expression such as ‘He said’ or ‘he thought’. It is as if the subordinate clause carrying the content of the indirect speech is taken out of the main clause which contains it, becoming the main clause itself. Using [FID] may convey the character’s words [and thoughts] more directly than in normal indirect.”