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  1. #21
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rogue Mutt View Post
    Unlike you and Oberon, I don't believe that there's one particular method or "secret" to writing.
    I don't believe that, and I've never said that. I don't have a method, and the advice I give is certainly no secret. All I offer are general principles a person can follow to improve meaning, clarity, and conciseness in writing. That's it. But if a person is a terrible storyteller, no amount of technical advice will help. It always puzzles me when you say I think there's only one way to write.

    I think you and Jay should give it a rest. All this carping...you both almost seem to enjoy it.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 07-20-2015 at 07:25 AM.



  2. #22
    DaBlaRR
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    Thank you for the input Dogsdinner. This is very helpful.






    Quote Originally Posted by Dogsdinner View Post
    "You shouldn't be describing anything." is a strange assertion. Every novel I've ever read is littered with descriptions from start to end.

    Even the samples Jay has linked to have lines such as

    "he climbed down and stood in front of his rocking-horse, staring fixedly into its lowered face. Its red mouth was slightly open, its big eye was wide and glassy-bright."
    That's quite clearly a description of a rocking horse.

    "For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise-shell, with jewelled rims"
    That's quite clearly a description of combs.

    How much description you need is genre dependent. Readers of Fantasy and historicals tend to be more keen on getting a rich feeling of setting than readers of fast paced thrillers or romance, but whatever you're writing you do need to learn how to describe things well.

    I sometimes don't know if Jay is trying to persuade people to buy these books or put them off. He claims to just be echoing what they say. But if I thought Dwight Swain was some professor saying that you shouldn't describe anything then I'd assume he was some fusty academic who was dealing in some strange academic theories of literature rather than the real world of commercial fiction.

    The thing is Swain isn't saying anything of the sort. He has some useful ways of thinking about things.

    Maybe Jay is trying to say that you should aim to make the reader feel they are experiencing the descriptions rather than feel they're listening to a narrator telling the descriptions. But I'd still class it as description, even if you've pulled off an illusion as to where it's coming from. (I think there are times when a narrators presence is useful, but that's a separate debate and if you don't know how to make the narrator vanish when you need too, you've not got all the tools you need)

    Jay is right that long lists of thing, most of which the protagonist is ignoring, is rarely the right way to go. But there are plenty of opportunities to describe things that the character is taking notice of, or interacting with. They'll be less description possible in high drama parts where the protagonist might be more concerned with not being shot than with the decor. Though if to avoid being shot, your character dives behind the pool table, bashing his knees on the hard floor tiles. - you've managed to build a bit more of the setting incidentally during the action.
    Unless I'm misreading things, it seems to me that the OP is already mostly describing setting via actions, which is fine.

    The trick to keeping things succinct while still giving an image in a readers mind, is to pick specific and interesting details. The reader will fill in a lot of the obvious or extrapolate from what's already been given. I used a pool table in my example. I could have just used table, but that would be missing an opportunity. Most rooms have tables and they come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, so mention of a table does little to enhance the readers image of the room.

    The horse example above, picks what's unusual. A slightly open red mouth is odd on a rocking horse. It gives an image of an old fashioned toy, made in times before that might be considered creepy and gives me an image of the rest of the horse.

    Another thing which can help with description is not to just go for the visuals. Engaging all five senses helps the reader feel part of the scene far more. (though I have to admit, I only find occasional opportunities to use taste.)

    A reoccurring setting is a different issue though. Beyond a point you don't want to keep adding to the description because the reader will have already fleshed out the place in their heads, so if you suddenly make mention of something unexpected that's always been there, it'll jar. Mostly you will do less description later.
    Dialogue heavy sections can be tricky. Sometimes in later drafts it will be possible to rearrange things so some of the talking happens in combination with the 'a lot more happens there' stuff.
    You can make use of character actions to occasionally reference bits of scenary that have been described previously and keep the image fresh. Find different ways to interact with the scenery, but you don't need to do this too much. Maybe your character sometimes sees things a little differently when under the influence of drugs. What was once a tree bent over a river, now looks like a giant bird taking a drink. That sort of thing could be interesting.
    You can also have characters bring some different things with them on different visits, just so they have different things to interact with and keep the character actions fresh. Even a simple packet of peanuts could lead to them lobbing peanuts at each other.

  3. #23
    DaBlaRR
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    Does it really matter who is the better writer, who gives better advice or who has more sales?

    Until I complete a novel, I don't call myself a writer. But I do love to write and that's the only reason why I do it. I assume everyone else here does as well. So I'll do it till it's not fun anymore. It doesn't sound like some people are having fun with it.

    I do however enjoy the entertainment of a good battle of words on a forum. So carry on.

  4. #24
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    "You shouldn't be describing anything." is a strange assertion. Every novel I've ever read is littered with descriptions from start to end.
    One of the problems with dealing with people who havenít taken meaningful steps toward their writerís education is that they donít really understand the terminology that writers use, and the options they have available. Thatís not meant as an insult, itís virtually the rule, because most people arenít aware that the writing skills we all learn in school are nonfiction skills and not applicable to writing. We graduate high school believing that POV refers to the person we tell the story in, but thatís the mode ort telling, not what POV is.

    Our goal isnít to make the reader know the story details; itís to make them feel feel as if theyíre living it. To be real to a reader, the writing must make them know the characterís world as they know it. In practical terms, instead of telling the reader that the character saw a tree, we give the character a reason to notice it that matters to the story. Anything else is a chronicle of events, and no more interesting that any other history lesson. The key is that if it doesn't matter to the protagonist enough to react to, it doesn't matter to the story. And nothing belongs within a scene but things that move the plot, develop character, or meaningfully set the scene

    We live our own lives in real-time. So having the character live in synopsisóa series of descriptions of what can be seen, and what a dispassionate outside observer notesówill get you a rejection before the end of page one.

    You, the author, are not in the story. Nor are you on the scene. Nor can the reader hear the emotion in the narratorís voice. So the moment you stop the action to tell the reader what you see, all illusion of reality vanishes. In the example you mention itís not the narrator telling the reader about the rocking horseódescribing itóitís the protagonist, the one the story is happening to, noticing that. So thatís not description, itís life for that protagonist. IOn other words, it's in that character's POV.

    Of course they donít tell us that in our schooling because theyíre training us to be useful to employers, not professional fiction writers. Swain and many others do.

    They offer four-year majors in writing fiction at the universities. And they are not easy courses. So of a hopeful writer spends no time, and no money learning the necessary professional techniques can they call themself a serious writer?

    Describing is explaining. And the reader comes to us to be entertained.

    Hope this clarifies.

  5. #25
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    I don't believe that, and I've never said that.
    I think the thing that matters is that you once said something that he construed as finding fault with his writing. He tends to be touchy about that. All else follows.
    All this carping...you both almost seem to enjoy it.
    I don't know about him, but I am. I think his lashing out is funny.

    But you're right. And I'd much rather discuss writing.

  6. #26
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    Does it really matter who is the better writer, who gives better advice or who has more sales?
    It does in this respect. If someone who is a successful writer gives you advice, you know that it works for them, and passes a publisher's muster, and so probably has more value than advice from someone who hasn't managed to get their books in the bookstores (anyone can self-publish so that's not a qualification). Also, if you look at their writing, and admire it, you might want to know why they do certain things.

    So, were Mutt and I to give a piece of conflicting advice to a hopeful writer—what we personally believe—neither one of us has books in the store, so no publisher has spent company money bringing us to market. That means that if we give a piece of, "This is what I do" advice we could well be suggesting the writer do the very thing that gets our manuscript rejected—bad advice in other words. Heartfelt, sincere, but bad. So in that case someone can either go and look at their writing to see what the pros say on that point, or look at our work to see which they favor.

    That's why I always suggest professional sources and articles, and why I don't present my own views on how best to write for publication.

  7. #27
    Rogue Mutt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    I think the thing that matters is that you once said something that he construed as finding fault with his writing. He tends to be touchy about that.
    Nah. It's just that like you, Oberon tends to say the same thing over and over again to everyone who posts writing here.

  8. #28
    Rogue Mutt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    Describing is explaining. And the reader comes to us to be entertained.

    Hope this clarifies.
    That's absurd. Sure you don't want page after page of pure description but there are times to include some details. It's about finding a balance, which is why saying, "You shouldn't be describing anything" is reckless.

  9. #29
    Rogue Mutt
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaBlaRR View Post
    Does it really matter who is the better writer, who gives better advice or who has more sales?
    Jay threw down the gauntlet about sales so it was time to put him in his place, which is at the bottom. You can say it doesn't matter but if you were starting a business would you rather listen to someone whose business makes money or someone who has gone bankrupt but can quote a lot of seminars?

  10. #30
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rogue Mutt View Post
    Nah. It's just that like you, Oberon tends to say the same thing over and over again to everyone who posts writing here.
    Really. Was what I said to you the same thing that I say to everyone who posts writing here?

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