Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Description--Day 4

Hm, this date looks familiar. That’s because it’s my birthday. My 49th, to be exact. (No, it’s not “and holding.”) I heard that more babies are born on Oct. 5 than any other day of the year. This is because it’s the due date for babies conceived on New Years’ Eve. Fact or fiction? Don’t know, but it sounds about right to me.

And so we finally return to ending our discussion of description. Here’s the question left by Gina after I hurriedly edited her scene while traveling last week.

In this scene my intention was to linger just a bit to emphasize the internal struggle Michael has with his addictions, one of them being his physical attraction to Leila. Since this is their first meeting after a tragedy two years prior, I wanted it to stick in the readers mind that their relationship, past and possibly future, is obsessive. So my question is, was the angst strong enough in the edit? I know I'm too close to the story, but I didn't feel his internal struggle as much. It doesn’t move me in the same way. I'd like to know what you and others think about this. Also, I have a question about voice. Since I’m still trying to figure out what my voice is, it’s not clear yet if mine is missing from the edit. Could you comment on the difference between tight writing and voice?

As a reminder, you’ll need to go back a few posts to see Gina’s original scene and my quick edit.

First question—is the “angst” as strong in the edit? Well, I think so, but the final call’s up to you. Sometimes we authors get so used to seeing a scene written with the original amount of words that when it’s cut, we can feel like some things have been left out. The new scene takes some getting used to. So that could be the case. On the other hand, I did that edit really fast, and I could have taken out too much. Again, in the end, it’s the author’s call. It can help to have other people read the scene in its original form and its edit and give you feedback as to what you might want to put back in, if anything.

Second question—my voice vs. Gina’s. Yup, this is the problem with actually rewriting someone—something a good editor won’t do. I did it for example’s sake, but invariably, if I rewrite a scene, that scene’s going to lose some original voice and take on mine. That’s why my edit is merely a suggestion. The best thing for you to do, Gina, is to pay attention to what I cut and see what you can learn from that. After that, change the edit as you will to put your own voice back in.

Here’s a question from Camy from a few days ago: In my scoresheets [in a contest], one judge complained she didn't know what my character looked like until page 7. Since I opened the story in the middle of a kickboxing match, I didn't think the heroine pulling out a mirror to describe herself would be appropriate. :) Any thoughts?

Yeah, I have to agree with you, Camy. We don’t need to know what a character looks like immediately. Part of this depends upon genre. In general (there are always exceptions), explaining the character in romance is usually done pretty quickly. This is probably because so much of the conflict deals with physical/romantic attraction, so we gotta know what these characters look like. In suspense, especially if you’re starting off with a real bang, physical attributes aren’t immediately important. It has to arise naturally from the scene. A character in the middle of a kickboxing match really isn’t going to thinking of her color of hair. I think sticking that in just for the reader’s sake would seem out of place.

Finally, here are some tips regarding description at the beginning of your novel:

1. Use all five senses if possible. We tend to ignore smell, but that can be an important sense. Smell can trigger memory—and the attached emotions—more than any other sense. So use it in your scenes to help place the reader in the action.

2. Tighten, tighten, tighten. Remember our Action Scene edits that dealt with compression and using just the right word to convey lots of meaning? (Go back to Day 6 of the edit, on June 21, and the following days for review.) Example from this current scene: “Leila came closer, moving back and forth with seductive grace.” Edited to, “Leila came closer, swaying with seductive grace.” This might even be edited down to, “Leila swayed closer with seductive grace.” I don’t particularly like the verb “came” because it’s a weak verb that doesn’t convey much. On the other hand, I like the “swaying” versus “swayed” because the “ing” verb connotes movement over a period of time. So I’d suggest that the author look for a way to both use the “ing” verb but get rid of “came,” writing the sentence as tightly as possible.

3. Don’t stop the story to describe. Use the description as part of the current happenings, and as a means to motivate the character’s next choice of action.

4. As the author of a story, we have to remember that we know more than the reader. We may have the vision of the character’s surroundings clearly in our head. You might try closing your eyes and envisioning the scene. What do you see? What do you hear, feel, smell, taste? What’s important to evoke the emotion of the scene? Jot everything that’s important down in a list, then see how the various points can be worked into the scene.

Anything else on description? Various people have asked about marketing, so when we finish with this topic, we’ll move on to that one.


Tracy Ruckman said...

Happy Birthday Brandilyn! May God pour His abundant blessing upon you and may your day be EXTRA SPECIAL!! Love ya!

Dineen A. Miller said...

Happy Birthday, Brandilyn! Hope you have an absolutely awesome day! Blessings to you!

Anonymous said...

Hey lady!! Happy B-day!! An occasion like this calls for double exclaim-points all the way around. Have a good one!!

: ) donna fleisher

P.S. Sorry I missed seeing you and everyone at the retreat. Hope all y'all had a blast.

Unknown said...

Happy Birthday! About description. I have to agree with Camy. Over description slows a story. I've read entire books where I'm only given the protag's hair color. Readers form a visual based on the character's actions and thoughts. I like to think of it like listening to a radio DJ. Even when I've seen their face, I still form an image based on what I hear on the radio. And that's okay. Anyone else questions your genius, Camy, let me know. I know people with very large red pens.

Unknown said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! Everyone, Brandilyn's interview is up tomorrow on wished I'd known it was your birthday today, we could have "aired" it today.

I've got a question: in my novel, I say, "the master gave him a scratch behind his pointed ear."

Since we're in the creature with the pointed ear's pov, should I not have said that? It stops me each time I read it to ponder if I shouldn't cut that. Thanks!

C.J. Darlington said...

First, hope you have a very blessed birthday, Brandilyn.

At the National Book Festival I spent the day in the Mystery and Thrillers tent and heard a wealth of advice from the likes of Nevada Barr, Sandra Brown, and David Baldacci. But one thing John Sandford said in his talk stuck out to me, and it's advice for writers. He said, at the earliest opportunity in a book (in the first scene), include a strong smell. It will draw readers in better than anything else, he said.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Brandilyn!!! May the coming year be filled with new blessings and a fresh closeness with God as you seek His face!

Also, I think I may have had an ah-ha moment on show v. tell. Showing doesn't necessarily mean adding more description. It means showing the actions of a person v. telling what a character did. Is that close?? For some reason I have really struggled with this balance issue.

Stuart said...

Happy Hatchday!

Thanks for all those pointers on description.

I do need to remember about all those senses. :)

Marjorie Vawter said...

Happy Birthday, Brandilyn!

Funny you should mention New Year's Eve! I was born on New Year's Eve. We share the same birth year :).

Thanks for the advice on every area of writing. I feel better equipped to go into my rewrites because of it.


D. Gudger said...

Happy B-D, BC!
I've been trying to catch up on reading blogs due to work demands. Just finished DREAD CHAMPION - loved how you built on the theme of God being a dread champion throughout the book. So many books seem titled on one sentence - yours captures a theme - one we as Christians need to grasp and remember! Thanks for the great read!

Jason said...

Happy Birthday Brandilyn! Here's a virtual party for you!
*passes around hats*

Thanks again for all you do, and the time you spend on this. It is so appreciated.

The Idaho Guy :)

LaShaunda said...

Happy Birthday Brandilyn,

May the Lord continue to bless you with the gift of writing and may your day be wonderful.

Domino said...

Put on your party hat as we all join together, singing, "Happy Birthday to you!!"

Much love to you on your special day. Have a great one!

mrsd said...

Happy Birthday! May this be your best so far... :)

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Brandilyn! You're in great company; my son turns four today. May he grow to be as strong in his faith as you!

How about "Leila drew closer, swaying with seductive grace."

Karen Eve said...

A very happy and blessed birthday to you Brandilyn.
God Bless,

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Brandilyn!

I'm one of your newest BG's. Thank you for such a wealth of information. I have gleaned much from your blog.


Grady Houger said...

My story characters send their birthday greetings Brandilyn, they are most thankful for the improvments and vibrancy your teaching has brought to their existence! May the year be filled with blessings and rewarded effort.

Gina H., your 'ear scratch' line sounds 3rd person narritive. Could it be experianced rather than something that just happens? Is this event necessary to show the relationship between the characters? I struggle with this myself, if it's ok to slow down and enjoy the scenery, or should I maintain a tight focus on the unfolding crisis.

Camy Tang said...

Happy belated birthday, Brandilyn! I'm only a couple weeks earlier than you.

Camy Tang said...

And thanks for answering my question about my kickboxing description.