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.
The Damnation of Theron Ware, by Harold Frederic, is considered one of the classic novels of American literature. Published in 1896, it is a realistic portrayal of a Methodist pastor (Theron Ware) in upstate New York. Of note, the novel was also published with the title Illumination, which in some ways is a more accurate (if less dramatic) depiction of Ware’s travails. In modern terms, it is the story of a man in mid-life crisis, who makes some bad decisions when he finds himself in a new environment. But just as the proof is in the pudding, the tale is in the telling…
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.”
Are you writing a story (or writing a novel) to be critiqued? If you are participating in a writing group — be it a fiction writing workshop, a fiction class in school, a writing studio, or a writing seminar — there are a few, simple things you can do to help make sure your work is well received. I bring this up because I often see writers do things which predisposes their critique group to dislike their work or avoid it almost immediately. The good news is these are really easy things to do.
I believe we live in a universe governed by laws of causes and effects even though we don’t yet fully understand all the causes and all the effects. When it comes to art, in particular, it is immensely difficult to know what cause will result in which effect. So it is tremendously difficult in the realm of words to know which sentence, which metaphor, which plot device will resonate with a majority of your targeted genre’s readers and turn a bunch of words into a great story. Though we don’t know these things with precision, I do believe that there are quantifiable causes and effects in play.
Wired for Story is Lisa Cron’s assertion that we do in fact have (some) science in the realm of writing that enables us to understand the causes and effects of good storytelling.
Apocalypse Now is one of the “best” movies ever made, in my opinion (acknowledging that “best” is in the eye of the beholder, though there are a lot of people that think this). More than that, it is a brilliantly told story, albeit the storytelling is via a movie. Of course, it is a retelling of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In case you have missed it, the story is about the descent of one man into insanity to confront another who has already descended to that place. Who knew there is an exceptionally thoughtful review of it on YouTube?
It is hilarious, but also sad. If you aspire to anything in life you need training and mentors. Unfortunately there are people who are either incompetent and don’t realize it, or incompetent and preying on your desire to improve yourself. This is why “selfhelp” books are such a huge business. “How to Get Rich!” or “How to lose weight!” or “Enjoy the Best Sex of your Life!” So given that I spend a lot of my time blog writing, I thought I would share this one. Read this and enjoy it, and all credit to The Onion, but also take it to heart…
In my writing workshop a long debate broke out about adverbs. Why they are evil, when they are needed and when they are not. The participants even offered example sentences of good and bad use of adverbs and when they are and are not needed for clarity.
I’ve not posted much recently. I have been heads down writing and reading to improve my craft. One of the books I’ve read is Stephen King’s On Writing. As a maturing writer, I’m attentive to writing, but also writers. I have long avoided this book because I really do not care for King’s writing. And to be honest, after having read this, I still don’t care for his novel writing.
I saw a question on a board the other day asking what does it mean to “practice writing”? This could be several things, but my view is that there are three things I practice. And to be clear, I think all writing is practice. Even the things I publish are not perfect. They were just good enough to publish.
Text to Speech (TTS) software is a surprisingly powerful tool to help you improve your writing. Whether you are writing a book, poetry or a business letter, hearing your words will allow you to perceive your words and sentences in a different way. Reading what you have written is one mental process. Hearing your words is a different process. There are subtle but important differences between the two. Listening to your words will enable you to detect errors and clunky sentences in your writing that you can’t “see” when you read your work. There are Microsoft text to speech tools, but those are not the only ones. Find — and use — one that works for you.