Come join me Sunday, July 30th!

Come join me Sunday, July 30th!
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Friday, December 13, 2013

Writing Illusions



This started in my tiny little brain early this week when I was with some wonderful writing buddies of mine.  We were discussing different aspects of writing and that it really is about impressions.  Or as I started thinking about it- illusions of real life.

When we all started out as writers, I’m sure we all did the same thing- describe the hell out of EVERYTHING.   What people looked like down to the smallest details, places, houses, kitchens, closets, stores…yeah, you name it, I can promise it has been described to death by thousands of writers.

We do it because, especially when we’re just starting, we’re trying to make it real for the reader—to do that we need to make them see it, right? Every last button, lace, design on the dagger?

Ummm- no.

Good writing has a trick to it—it implies real life, it gives the illusion of real life, but it’s not real life.  Use dialogue as an example.  We may eavesdrop on folks to pick up on things, but you’d never use “real” conversation in a book (and if you are, stop it. Please. ) .  In real conversation people are repetitive, they use fillers (um, ah, etc) they talk over each other, hop subjects, are boring, and a whole lot more.

So, we don’t write like people speak-- we write what feels like how people speak.  Our dialogue needs to give the illusion of real conversation, but in a much tighter and structured form. 

The same thing with description.  A laundry list filled with tiny details might make for a happy writer in some cases, but it’s not going to make for a happy reader.  As writers we have to give an impression of our characters, their homes, their lives.  Give enough detail to anchor the reader a bit, then let the reader’s imagination do the heavy lifting- let THEM determine what everything looks like.

I had a friend ask how I pronounced one of my character’s names once.  I shrugged and told her.  She frowned and said she thought it was something else.  To which I said, “Yep, you’re right too”.  I know how my characters look, sound, move, react.  It’s in my head all the time.  But once a reader meets them, those characters are theirs now as well.  If they build that character based on your words and their own imagination, that character becomes far more real to them than if the writer forced a list of descriptives down their throat.

Heavy lists of what things look like actually slow down the reader as they try to pull the very detailed image together.  It slows them down and pulls them out of your story.  A death sentence for any book.

I’ve come across books that gave me no classic descriptives of a character at all.  No eye color, hair color, skin color, height, weight, nothing.


And I can promise you I KNEW what that character looked like just from the writer’s other words.  Now, did my character look like what the writer was thinking?  Maybe, maybe not.  But what’s important was that I as the reader saw the character. I didn't see the writer telling me about the character.

6 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Marie. You articulated that craft idea beautifully, and I agree with you 100%.

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    1. Thank you so much, Melissa! that means alot coming from you :)

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

      Marie- stuck at work-can't log on

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  2. I remember those days when everything about how a character looked and what filled his/her surroundings seemed so important for the reader to know. Now... not so much. Do blue eyes make a character a better soldier than brown eyes? Is the king wiser if his robe is woven with alternating layers of 2.5 inch black, green and violet velvet, scattered with two and four carat diamonds? Do 47 candles positioned precisely about the room in ten candelabras illuminate the hero's view of the treasure map more clearly than 29 or 240? You are so right. Pulling the reader out of the story with details for the sake of details is counterproductive. Let the reader picture these things. They are better at it than we tend to give them credit for. Look at Peter Jackson. He read LOTR just like I did and I never guessed that Aragorn looked like Viggo Mortensen, I always pictured him taller.

    Good post, Marie,
    Sharon

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    1. Thanks Sharon! Very very true! Just reading your lists made me stop to try and picture it ;). I have to say, I never thought of Viggo as Aragorn, but now I can't picture anyone else!

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

      Marie- stuck at work-can't log on

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  3. I always thought writers were supposed to describe the hero and/or heroine, but, yes, I agree. I have gotten bored with over description of what a character looks like. This is great!

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    1. Thanks Kendra! I think writing is evolving, more and more readers are getting used to building the characters in their head ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

      Marie- stuck at work-can't log on

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