I mentioned in my last entry that there were a few discoveries about things I need to work on but didn't really go into them. And as usual, I've been meaning to get another entry up, but it's been busy. It's amazing to me, sometimes, how busy I can be even though I'm at home and don't do the usual housewifey stuff. It's also amazing to me that having a job doesn't necessarily fix what got broken when you didn't have a job, but that's a whole 'nother story.
Anyway, things I'm working on.
One of these really should have been an "oh duh" thing for me, but I only recently had the light bulb come on concerning it. The other is a rediscovery: I swear I knew it, and even attempted to work on it, before, but somehow it slipped away and here I am again. One thing about being a writer: you're always working on your craft, always learning (or relearning) to do it better, stronger, faster, whatever. It's a process..a journey. And sometimes you need to work on a whole bunch of things at once, other times you focus on one or two things at a time. Right now I'm focusing on sensory details and active description.
And I just saw a whole bunch of readers check out on me. Both of those things have to do with description, and a lot of authors struggle with description. Funny thing is, I don't. Because I used to be a GM (Game Master, for those who aren't familiar) and part of the GM's job is making sure the players "see" the room they're taking their characters into. I learned about description not only from what I did to describe the dungeons to them, but also from the questions they asked: how does it smell? what does that feel like? is it warm or cold? My players really helped me develop a sense of description. Now, learning how to use all that in an actual story is a whole different thing, but I started with a foundation that made it less difficult for me.
But dungeon description to players isn't active. You describe a room and answer questions. And the sensory description isn't personal. And writing description needs to be active rather than a flat block of what things look like, and sensory details need to be personal—the reader needs to feel it. And I've been struggling with both in my current novel. People wanted more details, wanted to feel more, and so on. It actually puzzled me that it's been so hard, but then I knew Assassin's, had worked on it for years, so of course it was easier in this respect. I won't get much done if I work on every project that long, so I had to figure this problem out.
And then the light bulb came on. For sensory description, I just need to write it like I'm experiencing it. Sounds easy. Not so easy when writing, actually, but I now note it at the top of the first page of each chapter I'm revising, and it helps. The only place it's a big problem is when it's something I've never experienced before. Then I have to guess. Guessing isn't the best option, really, but I know how pain feels to me, how cold feels to me, and so on, so based on the things I've already experienced, I can make a pretty good guess on other things with a little research. But the key is to filter sensory things through me.
As for the other, one way to take description from a flat narrative paragraph to an active description is to have the characters interact with it. This is actually easier to do than writing like I'm experiencing it and has the additional bonus of helping me reign in my description queen tendencies a little. By having the characters interact with the environment as I describe it, I focus on the things they would notice. Than all I need to do is add a few details to help bring the reader into the setting, and most of those are sensory things.
I'm using my current revision of Charms to work on these two things in particular. And probably the next revision, and the next novel. One thing about journeys, and writing journeys in particular: it's not all about the destination.
Process & Craft