Monday, August 4, 2014

Writing Tips #1

Writing Tips #1

Writers are imaginative people. We create people, places and things and manipulate them to form a story. Whether it is a romance, an action thriller, a mystery or an alternate reality, our job is to keep our readers engaged and wanting more.

But as imaginative people we have one serious Achilles heel. We incorrectly think that because we are able to imagine various people, places and things with the scantiest description, other can too.

No they can’t. If they could they’d be writers too.

I moderate a writers group and I’ve discovered that many of those I instruct create very sparse descriptions which can make it very difficult to get into the story and over time will cost you your audience.

In Stephen King’s and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, they form a very descriptive picture of an alternate reality called The Territories. What they describe in detail is a place similar to a seventeenth century America but with enough differences to keep you glued to the page. King does it again in his Dark Tower series. He’s creates a place where “Time has moved on” and describes that place in such detail you can almost feel the relentless heat of the sun.

Among the top 5 best-selling books of all time is the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling’s mastery of engaging description created a place so real in the reader’s imagination, that nary a person who ever read a Harry Potter book didn’t wish he or she could have spent just a little time at Hogwarts.

The problem here is mixed signals. Some books on writing tell you to leave it to the reader’s imagination. Others says it’s important to describe every single detail. The thing is they’re both right. It is the difference between Kurt Vonnegut who rarely described people places and things and Tom Wolfe who provided description to the minutest detail.

But the thing is both writer played to their strengths and never attempted to write in a completely different style. Vonnegut’s books were quirky, funny and made you think. Wolfe’s work was very straight forward and therefore it was important that he put you right in the middle of the action.

Here’s how to tell how much description is necessary. If you are creating a novel about people place and things that your reader has not been to, or experienced, then detailed description is required. Madagascar, Siberia, Tatooine or Hogwarts’ you’ve got to put them there.

One rule of thumb is the more a person place or thing is featured in your story the more description is required. If two spies are meeting in a New York restaurant, the waiter won’t need much description, nor will the cab driver, nor will the restaurant itself if all it provides is a setting.

Your main characters, the place where all the action is taking place and the devices used throughout should be clearly and accurately described.

For example if you’re writing an updated Batman story, Gotham, the Batcave and the Batmobile must be clearly described.

On the other hand, if you’re writing an action adventure novel that takes place in Manhattan you’re not going to need much description because Manhattan has been featured in thousands of movies and books so unless you can add something new, briefly describe the people and traffic and move on.

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