Update: I talked with Mark Alpert via email. He did not take down his post at the Kill Zone blog. According to Alpert, unspecified others at TKZ took it down because it was “too political.”
I can understand that, given that the stated purpose of the blog is to provide “Insider perspectives from top thriller and mystery writers.” But I still don’t like censorship.
Oddly, I lost a long-time (over a year) subscriber yesterday too. I believe she left because of my response. Possibly I wrote too much re the Alpert column. I can’t apologize for that.
This Journal exists as a non-political forum to pass along what I know and learn about writing and to provide hopefully helpful tidbits of my life as a writer.
In that pursuit, occasionally I will include links to articles with which I disagree in “Of Interest” because you might find value in them.
I and the Journal will continue in that regard. Below you’ll find a topic on writing description. Soon I’ll write a bit regarding the purpose behind daily word count goals. If there are any topics you’d like to see me cover, please send me an email@example.com.
There’s a new cover designer out there. Her name is Mary Baldwin and you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary can create both ebook and paper covers, so if you’re in the market, send her an email.
Did anyone else see the full lunar eclipse last night? I guess the eclipse was full at about 10:30 my time. I first saw it as the shadow was just beginning to move off the moon. It was a strange night.
Then I was wide awake, so I came out here to the Hovel to work on the Journal a little. I finally sacked out again a little after midnight.
Topic: Writing Description (Too Much or Too Little?)
The comment I get most often on my writing is that the reader felt like s/he was there in the scene with the characters. For me, at least, doesn’t get much better than that.
You’ve often heard the common wisdom that writing description is a tightrope. You want to write description so your reader can see the scene. But you don’t want to write so much description that it bores the reader.
A related bit of common wisdom says to only write description that matters to the story. Again, that’s good advice.
Now for some uncommon wisdom, or at least wisdom not often found on the writer boards and in most other venues:
Yes, writing description is a tightrope — well, sort of.
You DO want to write description so your reader can see the scene. But frankly, pretty much everybody does that. After all, a scene very seldom happens in a white room with white walls and a white floor and ceiling. (Nothing to see here folks. Move along.)
But most writers, including many bestselling authors, write ONLY visual description. And most often, those stories feel “thin” to readers. Those are the stories about which readers will never say they felt as if they were in the scene with the characters.
The point is, you ALSO want to write description so your reader can smell, hear, taste (sometimes) and feel (physically and emotionally) the scene.
So use the five senses at least once in every major scene. It shouldn’t be a laundry list, of course. The sentences containing those five senses can be combined (if appropriate) or worked in through the scene as appropriate. But all five senses should be there.
Is it a cool morning (Montreal) or a warm or hot morning (Tucson)? Is it muggy (Indianapolis or the deep south) or dry (the arid west)? Does the character have an itch on his arm? Let him scratch it. Does he smell fresh-baked bread on the air through his open car window? Does it remind him of the bread his mama used to make and how it tasted (good or bad)? And have him react to the memory. He might smile, or he might gag a little. (grin)
You get the point. Doing this will pull the reader into the scene.
Another reason for using the five senses as above is to GROUND the reader at the beginning of every scene. Give the reader a sense of place and, if appropriate, a sense of the level of tension (again, using the five senses).
So there you go. Two reasons to add description, both of which will “matter to the story”. The first will pull the reader into the scene and advance the storyline. The second will ground the reader and keep him in the scene.
But I don’t want to write so much description that it bores the reader.
No, of course not. But here’s a well-kept secret to keep that from happening:
As you describe the setting using the five senses, make sure it’s the POV character’s five senses. Every word you put on the page should be filtered through the POV character’s senses and his or her opinion of the setting.
When you describe the setting through the POV character’s senses, you won’t bore the reader. If you describe it through YOUR senses, chances are the description will seem gratuitous and you will bore the reader. After all, you aren’t in the story.
So if you want to avoid boring the reader, don’t add description yourself just because you heard that adding description is a good idea. Do it for a reason, and always do it through the senses of the POV character.
Rolled out at 4 despite the odd night. I have to admit, my initial urge was to publish this Jounral and do no other writing.
But if I had some other job I would still be expected to show up after an “odd” night, wouldn’t I?
To the Hovel by 4:15. I wrote much of the stuff above, began creating a post for the Pro Writers blog, etc. then took a break at 6:30.
To the novel, now, at 7:40. By 8:45 I had 1200 words and took another break. Back at 9 a.m.
Not a bad day, especially considering last night. Now I’m going to go rest. (grin)
Talk with you again tomorrow.
See “Still Working On A Writing Schedule” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/still-working-on-a-writing-schedule/.
See “100% Diy: Interview with Cellist Zoë Keating” at http://www.thepassivevoice.com/100-diy-interview-with-cellist-zoe-keating/. Not about writing specifically but about how many of us do business.
See “2019 Goals Recap – Week #3” at https://phillipmccollum.com/2019-goals-recap-week-3/. Phil McCollum often includes items about food in his posts. If you don’t care about that, scroll down to “As for the writing….”
See “You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order” at https://tonydwritespulp.com/2019/01/21/you-must-refrain-from-rewriting-except-to-editorial-order/.
Fiction Words: 3521
Nonfiction Words: 1130 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 4651
Writing of Blackwell Ops: Charles Claymore Task (novel)
Day 1…… 2405 words. Total words to date…… 2405
Day 2…… 2695 words. Total words to date…… 5100
Day 3…… 3016 words. Total words to date…… 8116
Day 4…… 3521 words. Total words to date…… 11637
Total fiction words for the month……… 49624
Total fiction words for the year………… 49624
Total nonfiction words for the month… 18090
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 18090
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 67714
Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date………………………… 1
Calenday Year 2019 Novellas to Date…………………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date……… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 38
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………… 193
Short story collections…………………………………………………… 31