Descriptions in fiction writing – less is more

Creating a realistic world for your reader can be challenging. Description of the setting and characters can help your reader “see” your world.

Descriptions of setting allow the reader to see where events are taking place. And descriptions of characters allow the reader to see who is involved as well as draw conclusions about the characters. Descriptions should engage the reader, draw him into the story and stir up his curiosity.

The key is to decide how much description your reader needs to see and feel your character’s world.

My writing style is usually light on the descriptions. I prefer for my readers to use their own imagination to build the world and characters. I perhaps do this because I am not a fan of reading pages upon pages of description.

I try to leave out the parts readers skip. ~ American novelist/screenwriter Elmore Leonard

In my case that would be the description.

Now I am not saying you should have NO description in your book. I am just one who like to use it sparingly. A few good choice words can bring vivid images.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~ Russian playwright Anton Chekhov

And this quote is a good reminder that you need to incorporate the senses in your descriptions. Don’t just say how something looks, but includes how it smells, feels, and tastes. (Obviously, those aren’t applicable in every scenario).

A few choice details can do much more than long paragraphs describing the scenery or what the characters are wearing.

I will end this short post with these rules of writing from Elmore Leonard. (At least half of them deal with description.)

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never us a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation point under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never us the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Social Media and Kids

Earlier this month, I went to a seminar about social media and kids. It was presented by a counselor from one of our area middle schools.

Now, my kids don’t have cell phones, but they do have iPads that have WiFi ability, so they could have access to some of these apps (though they don’t). Also Jase will be starting fifth grade in August, so I figured it would be a good idea to find out what apps and social media kids are into nowadays and what the dangers associated with them.

The counselor stressed open communication with your child. She suggested using the available apps and social media as a way to start a conversation about what they put online. You know…the whole “Whatever you put on the Internet is out there forever” and such.

Her recommendation was to allow your kids to have some of the safer apps but require they give you their login and password information rather than you just friending or following them on the social media sites. This way you can check to make sure they are behaving in a safe manner.

Good-and-Bad-Teen-Apps-Parent-Guide-300x169She put the apps and social media into three categories: green (safe), grey (could go either way) and red (bad/stay away). (I may have missed some in my note taking. She listed them by their icons rather than their names.)

Green Apps: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Linked In, YouTube

Grey Apps: Snap Chat, Vine, Personate, Facetime, Texting, Messenger

Red Apps: Kik, Yik Yak, Omegle, Whisper, After School App, Secret, Ask.fm

Many of the Red Apps let users set up anonymous accounts – which means users can post things without their comments being traced back to them. This often leads users into making mean comments (cyber bullying) or posting things sexual in nature. (Kik doesn’t even link your account to your cell phone number.

unnamedMany of the red apps are rated for kids age 17+, but that doesn’t mean kids younger than that are not downloading and using them. She also suggested checking their phones for a “Secret Calculator” app. This app looks like a regular calculator to friends or parents but actually once the passcode is entered it is a place to store photos and videos. This is just one way that kids get around any parental rules.

And just because you forbid them to use a particular app or perhaps don’t even get them a phone, they find ways around it such as setting up an account on a friend’s phone. In the speaker’s opinion,(and I agree with her) it is better to have supervision rather than no knowledge of their behavior. (In other words, allow them some freedom but still monitor their activities and keep communication open.)

Another way of hiding things is to have a Finstagram account on Instagram. This is generally a second fake account usually used for only close friends where users share funny or embarrassing photos. Even though Instragram posts only show for 10 minutes or less, it doesn’t stop others from taking a screen shot of the image and sharing it elsewhere. So if your kid has a Finstagram account, they need to remember that what is posted is no longer private. It can go anywhere.

Overall, the course was an eye-opener, and it gave me a lot of things to think about. Here is the link to her go-to website for staying up-to-date on the latest apps and their dangers.

Tips for dealing with criticism about your novel

criticism2It never fails. Whenever my husband reads a draft of my novel, he has comments and questions. And somehow in our discussion (either while he is explaining what he doesn’t understand, or I am questioning him to better understand his point of view) our communication breaks down. One of us gets defensive…and I will admit that often that is me.

After thinking about it…I have decided that part of the reason is that I take his comments as criticism of my writing. He doesn’t understand a plot point or can’t see the scene that I can see so clearly in my mind. And often he is correct that I need to make a change because if he doesn’t get it, I can’t expect every other reader to either.

So while the process does improve my novel, it is a bit stressful for both of us. That gave me the idea of writing a blog about accepting criticism, whether it is from a beta reader or a book reviewer.

TIPS for handling critiques

Stay Calm – It is natural to feel defensive but that won’t help the situation. Keep in mind that we can always improve. Take deep breaths and just listen.

Don’t take it personally – Take more deep breaths and remember it isn’t necessarily an attack on you. (Though I know there are some reviews out there that will come across as a direct attack on you. Remember you can’t please everyone.) Someone can criticize your novel without saying you are not a great writer. They may simply see flaws in what you wrote, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect on you overall.

Give yourself time to cool off – I much prefer reading my husband’s comments and then later discussing with him. It gives me time to process what he is saying and reflect on it before we discuss them. But when that doesn’t happen, sometimes I react poorly. I assume he is attacking my skill as a writer. So instead of asking questions or responding, I need to take time to step back and reflect (or cool off). Hopefully, this will allow me a different perspective.

Remember the goal is to improve – Remember that many of these comments can be an opportunity to step back, evaluate your writing and find ways to improve. When you look at criticism this way, you may have an easier time receiving it. Never give up on trying to be a better writer.

Evaluate what is being said – And of course, there are cases where the criticism is unjust or just mean. In this case, any “advice” is not helpful and is best ignored. To help you pose these questions when you receive hurtful criticism.

Were the comments something you can control?

Does the critical person’s opinion really matter to you?

In the case of receiving feedback in the form of a review, it is often tempting to respond, justify or correct the person. DON’T DO IT! No matter what a reviewer says that is negative, do not respond.

criticismWhen dealing with a beta reader, it often is best not to respond to their comments either. Simply evaluate whether their suggestion will improve your book. If it will, then make your changes. If not, ignore their comments and move on.  Don’t give into your temptation to argue. Keep your knee-jerk reaction to yourself and be professional. “That’s a good point. I’ll take it into consideration.”

Remember your goal with beta readers is to improve your novel. (Book reviewers can help you improve your writing on future work.) You cannot improve without constructive criticism. Having something to fix doesn’t mean you are a bad writer or that your book isn’t worth publishing. You don’t have to accept every piece of advice you get but do take the time to evaluate if the suggestion will improve your book or writing.

And last of all, when dealing with criticism. Remember: it isn’t about you; it is about your book. They are not the same.