Hi everyone, I have SUCH a treat today! Some of my very good friends and writers that I greatly admire are releasing a short story collection, Sweeter Than Tea through Belle Books. When I found out I was all, Ahhh! and jumping around and stuff, and then I calmed down enough to ask if they might stop by and share with us a powerful Description Tip.
Many of the authors were able to be here today with Becca and I, and their tips follow.
Kathleen Hodges: There’s so much we want to tell our readers when we start a book so they understand our characters and their lives that we often fill the early chapters of the story with tons of backstory. After I wrote my first book, filled with purple prose and pages of backstory, I was lucky enough to have an experienced published writer look at it. She pointed to spot around page 62 in Chapter Three, and said, “Here’s your beginning.” And that started a writing exercise I used with most of my books after that. I would just write to my heart’s content, not worrying about anything except building my characters, and the beginning would find me. Then I would take the key elements of those beginning pages and filter them in slowly. Getting that backstory out of my system was essential to knowing my characters, but not necessarily essential for my reader. Visit Kathleen at A Writer’s House!
Martina Boone: When creating a setting or a character, put in one main, memorable detail that simultaneously builds-in active interaction opportunities. Incorporate that detail into the scene or story through action. Use it to show emotion. For example, the framed photo that a character smashes can tell us a lot about that character. What was the photo? When was it taken? What does it represent? How is it framed—in gold, in plain, cheap wood? Where was it kept in the room—among a lot of other photos on the mantel, at the back of a collection on the end table, by itself in pride of place? Choosing how you describe something forces you to concentrate on coming up with something meaningful and makes your description further your story as well as paint a visual. Visit Martina at Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing!
Deborah Grace Staley: Trust that you know enough to write well. Don’t get me wrong. You have to do the work. Read novels like a writer, finding something in that author’s writer’s toolbox that you might need in yours. Go to seminars and conferences to learn about the craft from professionals. Or take a class. But at some point, acknowledge that you know something, too. Enough to see you through writing the book. Trust yourself and your instincts. Most of all, trust that when you sit down to write, even if it’s an off day and you aren’t sure where you’re going with a scene, trust that it will come if you just sit and put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper). Remember, as long as you have something on the page, it can always be fixed. It does not have to be golden. Visit Deborah at her Website!
Susan Sipal: Be precise and be strong! – One main reason why adverbs (and sometimes adjectives) get the bad rap that they do is because their overuse indicates weak description. If you choose a strong enough verb, you usually don’t need an adverb to qualify it. And if your nouns and adjectives are precise, your writing won’t risk tripping into purple prose. The foundation for choosing the most precise and strongest word is your imagination. You must first visually imagine the character, setting, action in your own mind, in vivid, active, and beyond-the-norm detail before you can convey that intriguing visual to your reader in black and white on paper or screen. This art of crafting engaging description is usually created through the work of multiple revisions. Enjoy! Visit Susan at Harry Potter For Writers!
Tom Honea: The secret, I think, is to know what the rules are and to be secure enough in what you do to stick to what feels right to you. Listen to the critiques of your group, your cohorts, but don’t feel that you are obligated to do it their way.
One other suggestion: read out loud what you have written, especially the dialogue. Or better yet, get someone to read it back to you. If it sounds good out loud, it most likely is good. If it is not good, it won’t sound worth a damn! Visit Tom on his Website!
Darcy Crowder: Word choice is a key element in writing description. When I’m in the creative stage of writing (as opposed to editing) my best method of creating description is to close my eyes and imagine myself as my character -in the moment. What does she see? What colors, shapes, textures are she experiencing? What sounds? The drum of a steady rain, the soft drone of insects? What smells? Freshly mowed grass, spaghetti cooking on the stove? The trick is to get the words on the page as quickly as possible. But that’s only the beginning. The magic happens in the editing. My best writing tip is to create word lists. Whenever the moment presents itself; a quiet walk alone, a crowded outdoor festival, a boat ride, a rainy day….you get the idea, take out your trusty pen and handy 3 x 5 index card (I carry some in my purse or pocket) and make a word list. Let the experience flow over you and note as much as possible, using the best words you can. Then, going back to that story you’re editing, pull from these lists. Your words will be fresh, first hand and more fully in the moment.Visit Darcy at It’s Only A Novel!
Jane Forest: Several of us got to talking about creativity during a quilting retreat I attended this past weekend. I decided that some people make things, and some just . . . don’t. The makers versus the takers. Those of us who create often have a finger in every crafty pie out there. We have whole rooms in our houses devoted to craft. We don’t simply sew or quilt, we write and make ornamental metalwork, we dye fabric and crochet and knit; do photography and woodworking and cooking and grow veggies and flowers—the list is endless.
I also work in a public library. When I’m helping people get their first email address, I chat with them to find a memorable password. “You don’t want to use your children or pet’s names, that might be easy for someone to guess,” I’ll say. “Do you have any hobbies?” I’m astonished by the vast number of people that don’t do anything but chat on the phone or watch sports on TV.
So melding together these two perceptions, I’ve come up with my tip to all those who want to be more creative, skillful writers: Get out there and make things. Be a creator, not a consumer. Watch less television, hang up the phone. Take some classes and stretch your brains. The more you experience, the more things you discover, the better you will be able to describe them knowledgeably in your books. You never know when some skill you’ve learned will useful to one of your characters—and having done it yourself, your descriptive writing will have a recognizable bite of reality. Visit Jane at Forest Jane’s Designs!
SWEETER THAN TEA: Family dramas, comic mishaps, sentimental remembrances and poignant choices illuminate these thirteen stories by new and established authors. There’s something for every reader: The gritty realism of a hunt for wild boars, the gentle grieving for a home now filled only with memories, the funny battle between a woman and her recipe for deviled eggs, and much more.
Come sit a spell on the front porch. Prop your feet up, sip a cold glass of sweet iced tea, and lose yourself in a way of life that’s as irresistible as pecan pie and as unforgettable as a chilled slice of watermelon on a hot summer day. Welcome to a place that exists between the pages of How It Was and How It Might Have Been—just a little bit south of the long path home.
Seriously, doesn’t this sound like the type of book you want to read this summer? I am a sucker for Southern Stories, and very excited to read this one.
***ALSO, Becca, my partner in mayhem, is at Courage 2 Create, a Write To Done’s Best 10 Blogs for Writers winner. She’s doling out Research Tips for All Writers so please stop in and check it out!***