Here’s something to think about…

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I thought I might say something about a few things that tend to happen when we write, and some which get overused, and not just by newbie writers I might add. A lot of what I’m about to say, I’ve said in previous posts. For my long time followers, please bear with me. This is mainly for any and all newcomers to my blog with dreams of one day becoming a published writer.

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Some of the novels and novellas by first time writer’s I have read recently, seem to rely solely on descriptive prose, while others believe that narrative and nothing else is all you need to tell the story. Neither of these techniques should ever be used on their own. Then there are a few who commit the sin of being overly verbose. To them I simply say, why use fifty words when ten or twenty will suffice?

But what I really want to get across to you is why descriptive prose should be used only when appropriate, and preferably not relied upon as a few writers tend to do – Bernard Cornwell’s Stonehenge 2000BC springs to mind as a book doubly cursed. It is mainly descriptive prose as well as being longwinded, i.e verbose. What was he thinking when he wrote it I wonder? Was it an experiment? Perhaps it was…

I saw this excellent quote on a writer’s Q&A site recently – Descriptive prose is simply writing that describes or gives a picture of a scene.” To give you an example, here is a short extract of mainly descriptive prose from one of my published sci-fi novellas – The Guardian.

To set the scene for you, the story is set in the twenty-second century. Things are hotting up between my two main characters. Lynne loves wearing what she thinks of as vintage clothing from the twenty-first century. In this brief scene she has deliberately dressed in a specific way to get the attention of the male lead Adler while they are back on Earth. Up until now he has only ever seen her in a flight suit, while appearing indifferent towards her. Consequently she is determined to change his mind.

“Hi boss. God you are a hard man to track down.” Adler looked up to see Lynne standing before him. For a few seconds his eyes devoured the vision before him. Her makeup was perfect. The top half of her body was barely concealed inside a flesh coloured translucent tank top that clung to her breasts, leaving nothing to the imagination. As she slowly spun around for effect, the thought occurred to him that her perfectly formed rear end was not so much covered by the Teal blue miniskirt she wore, as lovingly caressed by it. Her legs were clad in a pair of fishnet stockings. On her feet she wore an expensive pair of bright red stilettos. To complete the ensemble, she had an expensive Gucci bag slung over one shoulder. “Buy a girl a drink soldier?” she demanded rather than asked, giving him a smouldering look while sitting down directly opposite him to reveal the briefest hint of cream coloured silk underwear barely large enough to cover what now lay tantalisingly hidden from view when she crossed her legs. Yet again she was playing him. His wide eyed reaction told her she now had his complete attention.

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How I always saw and continue to see Lynne, every time I re-read The Guardian

What can I say, Lynne is sexually attracted to him. Thoroughly in control of the moment! While there will inevitably be some prudish individuals who consider the above as bordering on the indecent, most will accept it as part of the story and move on.

Another point for you new writers to consider, even some of the old hands need reminding – never state the obvious! What do I mean by this? Think about how many times while watching a film or maybe a play on television, that at some stage in the film one or more of the characters has said something like, “we’re taking fire” when it is blindingly obvious to the viewer. Another absolute classic example is when a character once again states the obvious – “someone turned off the lights!” Duh, really? Clearly even screenwriters don’t always get it right…

Some will say that of course when you are writing a book, unless you make a point of telling your readers what is happening by stating something like the two above examples, how else would they know what has just happened?

All I’m saying is think before you write! Any story is always a delicate balance of many writing techniques. Each has its place. None should ever be solely relied upon. There are three or four other points for you to consider. Some of today’s writers see nothing wrong in the endless use of expletives. Don’t do it! Nor should you be explicit when it comes to sex scenes. By all means allude to whats going on, just don’t spell it out! 

Another thing to remember is to try to avoid using words in common use in your local vernacular. For example, in the US the made up word ‘gotten’ gets used on a daily basis. If your intention is for your book to only be sold in your country, then usually there will be no problem using such words. However, if you want your book to appeal to the rest of the world stick to English English and English spelling. In short if it doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary and Thesaurus don’t use it.

Lastly, avoid using the same old words all the time. By all means use them when writing the first draft of your WIP. But when it comes to editing it, make full use of a Thesaurus in conjunction with the synonym function common to all writing platforms. After all that’s why they were both created!

😉

9 thoughts on “Here’s something to think about…

  1. I’m a firm believer in keeping descriptions short, but poignant. Helps being a poet sometimes. Redundancy baffles me and insults the reader. I’m such a stickler for repetitive words that I won’t use the same word within pages of each other. There’s so many wonderful, creative ways to describe or tell a story from different POVs, and we all phrase things uniquely. Shouldn’t your characters have the same freedom? Give them a voice and let them use it. The war of British English versus U.S. will go on forever. I read both, prefer Brit Lit, even though I’m American, but I collect classics and love many modern British authors.There is an Oxford American English Dictionary, too, by the way. I use both. Dialogue should be based on the character’s use of words or lack thereof. Dialects … that’s where the fun begins. Research historical etymology. Don’t use a word before its time–like wine.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I agree with much of what you say here, Jack. As you know some of the greatest writers have (arguably) been guilty of overly descriptive and/or verbose prose. For example Dickens springs to mind. Of course Dickens is one of the greats of world literature, however to many a 21st century reader some of his descriptive passages are overly long. Kevin

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Jack, good reminders for us not so newbie followers. Thought about this writing scenes in my book. Some history incorporated in dialogue worked much better than long narratives. And the language of the 60s in the U.S. was important to figure out. 📚Christine

    Liked by 1 person

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