11 March 2009

Preditors and Editors, an infamous underground clearinghouse of writer-specific info of all kinds is still a going concern, though they are under legal fire and soliciting donations to their legal defense fund. While they cover a wide range of topics, much of their info is sketchy, and may not have been updated in several years. I’d reccomend them to cross-reference, but not as a primary source.

Jackson Pollock – that’s the name of the artist we couldn’t come up with, whose dripping paint creations turned out to be fractals.

Some good advice on writing sex scenes from Jeff VanDemeer.

They charge a fee, but probably the most well-known resource for writing and market info is Writer’s Market. If you sell something – you can claim the fee as a business expense!

Whistler, of course, is a real place.

We’ve had a LOT of discussions about the ratio of description vs action in fiction.  Here’s my approach (and mind you – I haven’t sold a word of fiction…)

Long passages of description are generally frowned upon in our age. When Oscar Wilde would go on for three pages describing the sunlight in the garden, he had a more patient audience. Even so, the reader still needs enough information to imagine the scene. Slipping that information in without disturbing the flow of the plot is one of the tricks that seperate the pros (or semi-pros) from the hobbyists.

When you imagine the scene, take notes of what details you actually visualize. Write all of those down in the first drat that no-one’s going to see anyway (even if that draft exists -as mine do – only in your brain).

Then you need to ask yourself some questions.

The first question is: does the reader need to know? A corrollary would be, does this detail differ from what the reader would assume? We all have a ready image in our mind of what an old hobo, a rusty broadsword or a deserted parking lot might look like. The details you want to stress are the ones that wouldn’t immediately come to the reader’s mind. Of course the hobo’s clothes are filthy; tell us about the scar across his face, his Washington Senator’s baseball cap, or that he’s brandishing a rusty broadsword.

If the character, place or thing figures into the plot, or will appear multiple times, you definitely want to describe it.  Do not describe things that do not figure into the story, unless they are really cool – in which case, you might want to find a way to integrate them into the story anyway.

The second is: does the reader need to know right now? You can, and should, spread the descriptions evenly across the book. Basic details up front: an abandoned parking lot. Later, as the hobo runs across it, mention the solitray, dim streetlamp and the rotting wooden fence that seperates the lot from the jungle. Even later, as the hobo fends off savage beasts with his broadsword, blood can splatter across the crumbling curbstones, body parts can tumble into small piles of discarded papers and smashed, plastic bottles,and so forth.

The gimmick is this: add a descriptive detail every time something happens. This not only spreads out your descriptions, thus avoiding the long narrative blocks we are so warned against, but it can also break up long monologues or thought processes or otherwise fill in the gap where you might otherwise write “He waited.”

It is always far better to show us something about your imaginary world through a detail than to just tell us – word count notwithstanding. Avoid the habit of trying to do this all up front. If compelling details keep coming, the reader will trust you long enough to piece together the world as he goes. After all, that;s part of the fun.

Anyway, that’s my approach.

Now you know.

One thought on “11 March 2009

  1. Pingback: One approach to writing description – spread it out evenly « Writing Made Visible

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