Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writing: When Your Strengths Hold You Back

I would have to say that one of my biggest writing strengths is my power of description. I love to imagine that I'm painting a picture so vivid and real in someone else's mind as they read my writing, but the truth is... too much description can kill pacing and leave some readers feeling robbed of imagining events the way they would like to.

That is a hard realization for me. To suddenly see what you considered to be your strength as a potential pitfall can be disheartening to say the least. Of course, the extreme is to avoid descriptive writing altogether, but that too would be a mistake. A beautiful composition has a perfect balance that can draw a reader in and provide a foundation for their own fantastic interpretation. We run into trouble when we get so engrossed in the scenery, the details of the items on shelves and the way shadows flicker across the twilight-kissed leaves in an otherwise transitional scene, that we forget that we are in the midst of a story about our characters.

Have I gone that far? I don't think so. I mean, at least no one has ever mentioned it to me. Upon further meditation, though, I do realize that the second chapter of my current project does have a bit of a problem in areas where I struggled to measure the perfect quantity of detail into the scene. It leads me believe, looking back, that if you have to ask yourself if you are including enough detail, you might just be including a bit too much in some cases. Of course, that's the beauty of rewrites. I know this is an issue now, but I have to focus on moving forward. I will keep notes as I go about things I will want to change on the next revision, but I've got to keep moving ahead.

I guess that's the biggest thing for me -- slowly getting in touch with my own personal writing process. I've said it before, time and time again, I have always had this odd prejudice against rewriting and cutting. I truly expected that I should be able to cough up each story or poem perfectly formed and in the final state. Of course, this caused a lot of tension and a lot of setbacks where I deleted pages upon pages of decent starting material simply because it did not meet my expectations. I have since learned that this starting material is not as bad as I had thought. Sure, it must be sifted and refined, but there are

still rough gems to be found. It is only a fool who tosses these castings, hoping instead to find the perfect diamond or shimmering nugget.


Jim Murdoch said...

I hate descriptions, both reading them and writing them. I tend to add them in at the end. And only the bare amount. Gone are the days when a writer can afford to spend two pages describing a room as Dickens might. Modern readers want to get on with the action. Give them they key details and be done with it. What you can do, which is helpful, is break up descriptions over the whole work rather than presenting it as a clump that your readers can recognise and go, "Ah! A descriptive paragraph - I can just skip over that."

Brady said...

Thank you for your comment, Jim. I always appreciate your honesty and straightforwardness. I have read passages before where I felt like I was wading through a bog of description in order to get to the meat of the action, those experiences really detract from the story. I don't like the idea of someone just skipping ahead with something I've written. If that is the case, I suppose I didn't do my job well enough.

Alisia Leavitt said...

I have a hard time writing descriptions, but I'm working on it! Your strength is something I'd like to have! Jim made a good point when he said you should break up descriptions instead of presenting them in a big chunk. I have a tendency to want to present info all at once (which ends up more as "telling" than "showing") but have found it better to sprinkle things in here and there. Revealing things only on a need to know basis works better for me in my writing. Give the reader too much and they will be turned off or unable to keep track of it all.