Musings on My Writing Life
On The Road
The Other Half (his name is Robert) and I went on a 10-day road trip a few weeks back. We drove from Los Angeles to Moab, Utah where we visited three national parks. (Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.) Because we drove, we took whatever we wanted with us. His Volvo S60, a four-door sedan, was plenty comfy and roomy. Between the two of us, we must have taken 12 coats or outerwear. All piled on the backseat we almost couldn’t see out the back window. We took equal amounts of other clothing overstuffed into suitcases and duffel bags. The reason for all this overstuffing? It’s February, and we were going to a part of the country that gets quite cold and snows in the winter. Weather we weren’t used to. We wanted to be prepared, and we were unaccustomed to dressing for temps in the 20s and 30s. So we overstuffed.
Lean & Clean. Not All Gummed Up
I’ve now used a version of the idea of overstuffing several times. While on the trip all the excess clothing made me think about overstuffed writing. I know, my mind works in superbly odd ways. Good writing, well-written prose should be lean and sparse. Prose that is overpacked, overfull, overstuffed even, contains an excess amount of words. It has too many adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. It comes off sounding a bit too colorful and flowery. You want to say (write) as much as you can with (writing) as little as possible. Your words should allow the reader to fill in the blanks, or to use an overused idiom, to read between the lines. Not everything should or needs to be on the page. Your reader is intelligent, and their brain will fill in the missing, not-on-the-page information. My writing rule of thumb is lean and clean not all gummed up. (more…)
Read Every Word?
Shouldn’t we as readers, read every word a writer writes? I think we owe it to writers to do so. Some authors seem to disagree.
I read a lot. Books (fiction and nonfiction), magazines, newspapers, links on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, email newsletters, on and on. Recently in my reading travels, I saw something that gave me pause, again. I say again because I’ve paused over this before. And that’s the notion that fiction readers skip over parts of a story. A story in a novel or short fiction. Those skipped over parts are setting or weather details or other descriptive items. Words that hold lesser importance to the plot. Pieces of information that if unread still allow the story to unfold.
The Reader’s Agreement
I find this practice odd and a thing I never, ever do. I’m a read-every-word-the-writer-wrote reader. It’s only fair to her, him, or they. It seems sacrosanct. I mean isn’t there an agreement between writer and reader that the reader will eyeball each and every word? If there isn’t, there should be. Why would a reader skip over whole sections? What if something is missed? A turn of phrase describing the clouds in the sky so extraordinary as to take one’s breath away. It’s possible. (more…)
Tell Your Story by Using Setting
I always like to know where a story takes place (the setting). Whether it’s a made up location or a real one, a few details about the physical environment helps to ground me in the story. It’s the question I always ask: “Where in the world, or the universe, are we?” Are we on planet earth? If so, where? What does it look, feel, and smell like? Are we on a distant, undiscovered planet? The same set of questions apply. So, I say, add those little details in but, of course, don’t overdo it. Drop the name of the town, or city, or state early on. Time of year? Time of day or night? Current weather? Then the reader knows what they are dealing with. Include descriptions of what it looks like and any weather features for the time of year the story takes place. All of it adds context and texture.
A story set in Seattle is very different from a story set in Phoenix. Characters who live their lives in the Pacific Northwest deal with an abundance of cloudy skies and wet weather. Those living in the Southwest experience tremendous heat and aridity. A character living in Minnesota survives bitterly cold winters and humid summers. These extremes should affect how the characters behave. This also speaks to who they are as a person, their internal makeup. (more…)