Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as “too much description”
©April 26, 2011 By: Daven Anderson
As writers, we are always told (pun intended) to “show, not tell.” We are supposed to give lavish, detailed descriptions of each and every detail of our characters’ surroundings.
Let me compose an example for you:
My thumb snapped the dry, ancient flint wheel of my tarnished, weather-beaten sterling silver vintage Zippo. The cascading sparks caressed the hissing jet of lighter fluid, setting off a deep blue flame that quickly transformed to a yellow glow matching the bulbs of the streetlights glimmering above. I drew the flame closer to the tiny tobacco leaves in my hand-rolled cigarette, watching them ignite to life in a multitude of burning red hues, ready to render the exquisite pleasure and satisfaction that can only come from inhaling nicotine.
Problem: Is this a realistic train of thought for your character? Does the example above move the story forward? Does it give you any insight into your character’s thoughts?
Here’s what a real-life character would actually think: “Clicked my lighter and took a drag. Nice night for a smoke.”
How about a more realistic, less bogged-down “dramatic embellishment” supplementary suffix to the above two sentences?
Nothing like my old Zippo. Always works through thick and thin. Too bad no one rolls their own smokes anymore, like I still do. Can’t stand those chemical-tasting white coffin nails.
There. Thirty-two words in four sentences. You get the Zippo lighter, the hand-rolled cigarette and how the character feels about them. Without the ninety-word bombast of my deliberately overstated first example.
If you use an excess level of description, not only do you bog down your story’s pace, you are actually taking away elements of the story that can and should be left to the readers’ imaginations.
Too many writers endeavor to describe every last detail of their characters’ world, at the expense of other story elements. I’ve read more than a few books where excess descriptions stop the story in its tracks like a deer caught in the glare of headlights. The characters were pushed so far into the background as to be almost non-existent. If I hadn’t read previous excerpts of these authors’ works, I would have had no clues regarding any of the characters’ motivations.
Many authors seek to create a movie in your mind. The impeccably crafted prose of the books mentioned above most certainly accomplishes that goal. But, I must ask, what is the greatest advantage a novel has over a movie? Being able to get inside a character’s mind.
My readers can imagine the inside of an interrogation room, but they can’t “imagine” the inner workings of my character. This is the reason why I focus on characters’ motivations, not about the rooms they happen to be in.
Update August 2014: Kristen Lamb’s post, addressing WHY there is such a thing as “too much description”
Vampire Love: Thinking Outside The Coffin
©May 12, 2011 By: Daven Anderson
Love. The vampire genre is full of “love.” Bookstore shelves are on the brink of collapsing under the weight of an army of paranormal romance titles. Servers for e-books are filled with terabytes of bodice-ripping hunks with fangs.
And therein lies the genre’s biggest problem.
Vampires are, by definition, outsiders. Thus, their experiences of love should also diverge from the normal world. Their dealings with love should be the opposite of the usual “category romance with a sprinkling of paranormal seasoning.” This ceaseless flood of cloned paranormal romance degrades Dracula, debases Bathory, ultimately creating a horde of readers that will never touch the spine of a book with the word “vampire” in the title. Can you blame them?
One of my main motivations for writing is to correct this sad situation.
My character Damien was fourteen years old when he met Lilith, an attractive redhead who appeared nineteen. She was actually a fifty-five year old vampire. Lilith did not bother to inform Damien in advance that consummating their attraction would transform him into a vampire. Even though they are soul mates, and he has remained with her for over 250 years, Damien has never forgiven her for failing to tell him what he would become. This is the reason why Damien seeks solace in the arms of his mistresses, in spite of his wife Lilith’s habit of killing them.
The reason why Lilith didn’t tell Damien is that her first husband didn’t tell her she would become a vampire, either. And Lilith didn’t mind a bit. She loves being a vampire. She sees it as empowerment and deliverance from a menial 18th-century life. Lilith doesn’t think anyone would, or should, ever object to becoming a vampire. Even if they weren’t told about it in advance.
There are way too many books where you can read about a handsome male vampire at long last finding his human female soul mate. Once again, the time is ripe for an author to think outside the (coffin) box and bring the true “outcast” spirit of the vampire back from the, ahem, dead.
What tales of love reside in my novel? Jack, a newly turned young vampire wanting the love of a family, guarded by a Gypsy vampire still mourning the loss of her loved ones. Damien, never forgiving his wife’s act of information omission, seeking comfort in mistresses. Power-hungry Lilith, killing those mistresses to regain control of the “bad boy” husband she loves.
These are not the love stories in your typical dime-a-dozen paranormal paperback. These are the love stories of outsiders.
The love stories of vampires.
Writer Versus YouTube: Spin Spin Sugar
©June 02, 2011 by Daven Anderson
In the far corner of the ring is “Spin Spin Sugar,” a rock music video by the Sneaker Pimps.
My story is written from the point of view of the young man first seen attempting to change TV channels with the remote.
Dammit. This old piece of junk TV isn’t getting any channels. I give up. Lord, I never should have answered that personal ad. My date’s acting like a total drug addict. She’s in the bathroom. Fully clothed, sitting on the john, yelling out disjointed words.
I glance into the bathroom. My date stares lasciviously as she moans, “I’m everyone, I feel used.” What is she on? I’m the one who’s feeling used here. When a girl invites you to her motel room, you expect it to be just the two of you. Instead, her weirdo 1980′s retro-freak male friend is in the bathtub, wearing day-glow fluorescent clothes, sipping a strawberry milkshake.
She smiles at me and says, “I need you.” Oh, god.
Eighties freak boy stares at me for a second, then throws his milkshake on the bathroom mirror. Jealous, are you? Don’t be. This is the worst date I’ve ever been on in my life.
Great. Now sicko fluorescent retro-boy is licking his spilled milkshake off the mirror.
“Twist for me,” my date yells.
Uh oh. Now I get it. I think they want me for a threesome. Why didn’t she put her ad in Casual Encounters? As if these two weren’t bad enough, someone’s banging on a big African drum in the next room. This is the sleaziest hotel I’ve ever been in. I think she’s a hooker. This must be the place she takes her tricks to.
I bet glow-boy put a roofie in that milkshake. Now that freak’s dropping to the floor in agony, gripping the back of his mohawked head. I’ll be lucky if I get out of here alive and unmolested. Wonder if anyone’s hiding under the bed? I duck down and take a look. Hmm, no bodies, but a bunch of worms are crawling around under there. Gross.
“I want perfection,” my date says as she writhes on the other bed.
Honey, you’re the furthest thing from perfection.
I get up from under the bed and bang on the wall.
“Quit playing that fracking drum,” I yell.
The incessant drumming pauses for a second. I think they heard me.
What else is going on in this hell-hole? And why would some sleazebag hotel like this have a picture of Pope John Paul II on the wall? Must be covering something up. I chuck the photo aside. Aha, a peephole. I kneel down. A girl drinking wine and dancing in black light. Wish I was in that room with her.
Great. Now my date’s crawling across the floor, toward me. Leave me alone, I’d rather look at the other girl.
I gotta get out of this place.
Music to write a Vampire novel by:
1. The Fever – Cold Blooded (3:25)
2. Missing Persons – Mental Hopscotch (3:14)
3. Radiohead – Creep (3:57)
4. Slayer – Epidemic (2:22)
5. Green Day – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams (4:20)
6. Stevie Wonder – Superstition (4:25)
7. The Fever – The Slow Club (4:34)
8. 10cc – I’m Not In Love (6:03)
9. Joan Baez – Diamonds & Rust (4:45)
10. The Fever – Gray Ghost (3:08)
11. Ministry – The Missing (2:54)
12. Edith Piaf – Heaven Have A Mercy (3:41)
13. Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Chile (slight return) (5:13)
14. The Blasters – Dark Night (3:51)
15. Squirrel Nut Zippers – Put A Lid On It (2:39)
16. The Beatles – Run For Your Life (2:21)
17. The Pretenders – Bad Boys Get Spanked (4:07)
18. Rose Tattoo – All The Lessons (3:07)
19. Portishead – The Rip (4:30)
20. X – Riding With Mary (3:39)
21. Linda Ronstadt – Long Long Time (4:22)
22. Bob Welch – Ebony Eyes (3:32)
23. Sneaker Pimps – Walking Zero (4:31)
24. Lita Ford – Out For Blood (2:56)
25. Arthur Brown – Fire (2:56)
26. Krokus – Screaming In The Night (6:42)
27. Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues (2:19)
28. Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight (5:36)
29. Metallica – The Small Hours (6:43)
30. Simon & Garfunkel – Somewhere They Can’t Find Me (2:37)
31. Devo – Peek-A-Boo (3:00)
32. The Runaways – Waitin’ For The Night (5:02)
33. Motörhead – Shine (3:10)
34. AC/DC – If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) (4:36)
35. The Eagles – Victim Of Love (4:10)
36. Ike and Tina Turner – Only Women Bleed (4:01)
37. Spooky Tooth – Lost In My Dream (5:03)
38. Fleetwood Mac – Hypnotized (4:47)
39. Wings – Venus And Mars (Reprise) (2:05)
40. Juno Reactor – Navras (9:06)
41. Portishead – Theme From “To Kill A Dead Man” (4:24)
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