The Art in Writing

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

And words, skillfully put together, paint word pictures. 

Just how detailed should a writer’s word picture be?

Should settings and other descriptions be in-depth and intricate? Should they follow the example of realism, like the famous artists Jean-Francois Millet and Honore-Victorin Daumier and, thus create a word painting that “looks” real—like it would in real life?

Or should descriptions lend themselves to the more abstract, placing more of an emphasis on visual sensation, as did Picasso and Van Gogh?

My personal opinion, is that this is a matter of writing style— and as yours evolves, you will find that you prefer one over the other. 

But, remember:

Readers, also, will have a preference as to which authors they like to read. Some love to read flowing prose that uses up word count with lots of descriptive elements. Others may prefer minimal descriptive words, freeing them to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations.

Myself? Well, I find that I prefer to write—and read—somewhere in the middle. Give me enough description so that I understand the “big picture,” but not so much detail that it slows me down. I want to focus more on the action—the story—and let my mind fill in the descriptive blanks. I’m an abstract/realist.

Some genres may use more description than others. For instance, Fantasy and Sci-fi need more detailed descriptions because the writer is creating a world totally unlike our own earth. A large part of what makes those genres so interesting IS the description of the settings and characters in those alternate worlds.

Romance novels also use a lot of description because the reader has to find the characters desirable, so they will want to keep reading to find out if the “guy gets the girl” in the end. Thus, the reader must believe they are worthy of pursuing and being pursued.

So, should you paint your picture using a thousand words?  Probably not.

It is fun—also a challenge—to see how well you can describe something using a minimal amount of carefully-chosen words.

When you do this, you spark the imaginations of your readers so that they can actively participate in interpreting the word pictures you paint.

 

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What’s the Point?

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Out for a hike on a mid-summer’s day, you fall into an old abandoned mine shaft. A deadly viper rattles a warning only a few inches from your feet. Which of us would not yell for help?

Not “help.” But, instead, a top-of-your-lungs-blood-curdling-cry-so-that-someone-will-rescue-you kind of “HELP!”

On occasion, I want to use an exclamation point in my writing. But, I hesitate to do so because of current advice I hear in the writing community.

As my finger is poised over the ! key, the little writing dictator on my shoulder reminds me that using that particular character is a big “no-no.”

Now, I agree that the overuse of an exclamation point can be a crutch. (“Oh, how pretty! He’s so nice! I love your dress!) If one relies on it too heavily, excellent descriptive writing can go by the wayside and our writing can become one meaningless ! after another.

But, using it once in awhile—in special circumstances—seems right. In fact, not using it, would be downright “wrong.”

So, my suggestion is that we consider each circumstance on its own merits. If we can do a great job of writing by using other descriptive words in order to paint a vivid/emotional picture for our readers, then that is what we should do. Leave the exclamation point for more dramatic occasions.

But, if there are instances in which our character would most assuredly be screaming or very emotional, then we should use our best discretion, and use the exclamation point in certain—and very limited—instances.

And, that’s my point!

When Less Is More

 

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Have you heard the phrase “Less Is More”?

This expression is often associated with the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Van Der Rohe (1886-1969), who noted that clarity and simplicity lead to good design.

It refers to a minimalist approach, noting that when there are less items on a display shelf, they don’t have to compete for our attention and, thus, we can focus on them, individually, and enjoy each one for its own special qualities.

So, less decoration, properly employed, has more impact than a lot.

What implication does this have for writers?

I think it can have several:

1) For the most part, writing that is less complicated is often better understood than that which is more complicated or complex. This  works well for non-fiction and even most fiction books. However, readers of mysteries thrive on untangling clues and figuring out motives, so making them simpler would just water them down and kill all of the excitement of the hunt.

2)   Brevity of communication is more effective. I am reminded that we live in a world of emails and texting. Short, choppy, sentences and phrases are the way we communicate with each other. So, it stands to reason that readers want to see more white space on a page.

Long past are the days of flowery language and lengthy descriptive paragraphs. Readers want writers to be more to the point than ever before.

To carry this idea forward for a moment, authors are seeing more sales of books in a series, rather than books with a healthy 500 pages to plow through. So, authors, you can make more money by putting those hefty books in 250-300 page “installments.”

3) Finally, there is a fine line between just the right amount and far too much description. Readers want authors to give them some description of the characters and setting, and then allow the readers to visualize the rest for themselves.

(I recently stopped reading a book at page four because the author was still describing the character’s physical attributes, educational background, family relationships, and idiosyncrasies. With no action—no story, yet— I just couldn’t take it any longer!)

Like spices, sprinkling this throughout the book in small phrases keeps the story much more interesting. The less we tell and the more we guide the reader, they will feel more involved in the process…more a part of the reading experience. 

It’s important to note that over the years trends change. Writers, just like those employed in any other industry, must be willing to adjust to what our reading public tells us they want.

Until then, give them less and they’ll want more!

 

 

MILK IT!

There are times when my Critique Group writes “Milk It!” when commenting on some of my scenes. What they are saying is that they want MORE than I have written.

MORE ACTION

MORE EMOTION

MORE INTERNAL THOUGHTS

MORE DESCRIPTION

MORE CONFLICT

Why? Because that’s what makes a story exciting and satisfying. If you want your book to be a real page turner, then a writer has to deliver ON EVERY PAGE.

DON’T SKIMP.

PLUMP IT UP. Use rich vocabulary. Lots of adjectives and verbs. Paint a visual picture.

Furnish the details. Let them get inside the characters’ heads by revealing their emotions via DIALOGUE, ACTIONS, AND THOUGHTS.

PUMP UP the plot. Make the content EXCITING. Make your reading audience want to keep turning the pages.

I know I have read books that were so exciting that they literally kept me up ALL NIGHT. I just couldn’t put them down.

That’s what writers want, isn’t it? To have our readers so completely drawn in by our characters and their journeys that they just can’t turn out the light and go to bed.

When I am done writing a chapter, I set it aside until the following day. Then, I read it again, with the eyes of a READER. I look to see if the first paragraph “hooks” me, if I want to keep reading to the end, and then if the closing sentence leaves me wanting more.

If so, I start writing the next chapter. If not, I look for where there is lagging action, conflict, emotions, thoughts, and/or descriptions. Then, I re-write, adding those elements.

I repeat the process until I am WOWED.

Then, it’s ready for the critique group. If they are WOWED, then I’m a happy camper. If they are WOWED, I know readers will be, too.

So if you have a nice little story which is lacking in PIZAZZ, why not make it a page turner?

Spice it up.

Change it up.

Shake it up.

MILK IT!!!!

Brenda