Monday, December 9, 2013
PESKY DETAILS OF WRITING BY RITA KARNOPP
Come on . . . admit it . . . you’re a people watcher – aren’t you? Well if you write you should be. I’ve created some of my most interesting characters by observing those around me.
Tags - are a great way to set one character off from another. The book I just finished, Thunder, I use the ‘verbal’ tagging, “No can do.” Now every time the reader hears this – they know he’s the killer – or they’re pretty sure he is. It’s like when Scarlet O’Hara said, Fiddle DeDe. There are other ways to bring the focus or recognition to a particular character; jaw clicks, nervous eyebrow raising, maybe they click a pen when they’re nervous, some people pop their knuckles, and so on and so on.
There are the obvious tags such as a tattoo, a lisp, or perhaps a metal clicking on the brace when the person walks. We want the reader to recognize who is speaking or moving without always saying, “he said,” or “she said.” That’s okay every now and then, but after every few sentences it reeks of amateurism.
Be descriptive in colorful ways. Red is red… but crimson is another color. A tree doesn’t say much but describe a thirty-foot towering pine or a sad, drooping willow, you’ve got an image. Never just say flower, but do say, a field of fiery red and orange Indian paintbrush twitching in the breeze. Adding color does just that – it brightens a scene.
Watch for the lovely ‘ly’ words. Too many adverbs point to a beginning writer. I’ve heard it said so many times – because it’s a real problem. When reviewing your work cut 85% of all ‘ly’ words; lovely, callously, interestingly, lovingly, terribly, etc. A sentence can always be reworked to eliminate the ‘ly’ problem.
Adjectives are just as bad. We read on the fast side these days. I never want to read; “The sun set behind an orange, yellow, pink, purple, hued river of colors….” Egads! How about; “Everyone appeared uncomfortable and the hot, sticky, humid, downright miserable night was one of the worst on record.”
Why not say, “The record humidity added to how uncomfortable everyone appeared.” It’s not the best example, but you get my point. Be direct and dramatic – in most cases ‘less is more.’
Turn a simile into a powerful adjective – By doing this you vary the pattern of descriptions.
”She jumped with the grace and agility of a cat to the platform below, silent as a mouse.” How about:
“A quick feline leap landed her on the platform below, silent as a mouse.” Take it further.
“In a quick feline leap, she silently landed on the platform below.” Okay…we can improve this and remove the ‘ly’ and make it even better.
“In a quick feline leap, she landed unnoticed on the platform below.” It says all you wanted to say – but it’s crisp, action-packed, and we removed the lazy ‘ly’ word.
Tomorrow… let’s talk about piling on the details.