What is tension?
I love this definition: “Delicious moments of anxious uncertainty.” Doesn’t that grab you and make you want to create those kinds of moments in your stories? So how do you do that?
- You make your characters want something.
- You create obstacles for them.
- You don’t let them have what they want.
- You keep them trying to get it. . .for a while.
To enhance this tension of WANTING BUT NOT GETTING, Carol Kilgore has added the TICKING CLOCK. A perfect tension heightener. With character trying to overcome obstacles against the clock, readers have to turn the pages, and that’s exactly what writers want.
|WRITE CLUB STARTS TODAY|
Description should add to your story, not stall it. While I often fall in love with my description of a setting, I have to remember that my modern reader isn’t here to loll in the land of my beautifully executed prose about the countryside or seascape or quaint town or whatever. My reader is here to read a story and story is about forward moving characters and action. So how can I keep up my story’s momentum and yet put my readers into the place.
One way I’ve found is to treat the setting as if it were a character. Characters in stories have a purpose. They’re included to act as foils for each other or as companions that reveal each other’s contradictions or ambiguities. Setting can do the same things. Can you imagine Quasimodo hiding in a small wood framed church in the countryside? Isn’t the imposing cathedral bell tower and teeming Paris of the late 1400’s exactly what helps to make him and Esmeralda so memorable?
On a more modern note, Think how Louis Sachar’s Holes would fall flat if those holes were in a lush water-surrounded landscape. Doesn’t the desolate setting that the author describes add to the punishment that the delinquents suffer? I was thirsty the entire time I was reading that book and my thirst added to how much I empathized with those kids.
So how about rules for description? I’m not so good at following rules, but I love knowing them and I love being able to follow them because then I can break them real good.
Here are a few that I pay attention to while I’m thinking how to do things differently.
- Include specific and carefully observed detailed. Example: the tree v. the thick limbed oak
- Reveal the innermost workings of your character. Example: She was cold and walked quickly across the busy street. v. Head down, hands shoved inside her pockets, she dodged the cars that clogged the crosswalk.
- Try to include different senses in a scene and never too many: His face was red with anger. v. His face, red with anger and his breath coming in hard pants, he raised both fists.
- Don’t turn purple. Leave “It was a horrendously evil sight” where it belongs–with Bulware Lytton’s “It was a dark and stormy night.”
- Whenever possible kill the adverbs. They lead to lazy, unimaginative writing. Example: He carefully unlocked the door. v. He turned the key in the lock, but stopped with his ear pressed against the door before he inched it open.
Now I think I’d better go write some descriptive passages and see if I can do anything I’ve been sharing with you here. It’s so much easier to talk about how to write, then it is to actually write.
I’m sure you have some other ideas about description. If you have some tips, please leave them in a comment. I love to know what you do and I’m sure there are others who stop by who will also appreciate your insights.
“BREAKTHROUGH: “THE ADVENTURES OF CHASE MANHATTAN” BY Stephen Tremp, will be free for (2) days on Amazon June 18th – June 19th. Be sure to download your copy! You can visit Stephen’s Website Breakthrough Blogs for more synopses and reviews.
This looks adventurous, doesn’t it? Thanks for the visit, Stephen and good luck on your book.
My thankful Mood is all about my Mr. Linky experience. It has been great, and I’m now feeling as if I’m on my way to organized. I’ve set my book launch ahead a bit since there was a delay in production, but the delay won’t be long. Thanks to those who signed up to give me a hand and thanks to MPax for all her help with Mr. Linky as well the emails of encouragement. Lee at Tossing It Out, Rachael Harris and Alex Cavanaugh will still be hosting me, but in August. Julie Muslie will host me in late July.
Now on to my Crafty Mood. I’ve been so tied up with the business of writing that I feel as though I’ve neglected the craft. I need to return to that and remember that launches are not possible without actual writing.
One thing I’ve been doing a bit more of is reading and paying close attention to how the stories I really enjoy pull me into their characters and the worlds these characters inhabit. I love the fast-paced action and the tight dialog, but I also like those quiet moments when the author DESCRIBES the characters and the setting for me.
Description is an important piece of a story, and to bring that story to life on the page requires such skill on the part of writers. They have to translate the sight, sound, smell and feel of the people and places so the readers have access to them, have a sense of what the characters look like, how they’re experiencing something or being affected by it. And they have to do it without resorting to clichés–the bubbling brook, the attractive woman, the bustling city, the stinky socks or the meow of the cat.
Appealing to all the senses adds depth and reality and allows the reader more of a chance to really lose himself in the prose. Here’s one passage I love because it tackles two of our senses to deliver up the character.
“Zalatnick led me into the shop not as if I was a fellow looking for a job but as if I was a friend of a friend. I was sure the men in the shop could smell the difference.”
Here’s Stephen King on DESCRIPTION: “Thin description leave the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium.”
How true, Mr. King. The craft is all about knowing what to include and what to leave out. If the writer includes just the right amount, the left-out portion allows the reader to interact and become one with the story. This is such an incredible skill that I think I’ll be focused on it for a while, so if you visit here for the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about what I’m learning about DESCRIPTION.
What brought this post on were these pictures of spider-webbed trees, an unexpected side-effect of the flooding in parts of Pakistan earlier this year. It seems millions of spiders escaped the rising waters and stayed among the branches, creating these surreal images. When I saw them I wondered how I’d put something like this into words. My first try was to call these trees captured by smoke. How would you describe what you see if you were writing a description of these trees?