Snowballs and jollification


“What is an aspect of writing you are especially good at, and how do you approach it? What is an aspect of writing you struggle with, and what are some ways you’ve found to help yourself work through that aspect?”

     There are two aspects of story-writing that I love and believe I am good at: brainstorming and outlining. Brainstorming is pretty easy– but then again, I know for other people it’s not. I wish I could give an easy three step plan to thinking up good ideas, but it’s not that simple. However, I don’t want you to give up hope. Like my dad always says, creativity is like a snowball—  and the snowball gets bigger once you start pushing. My single tip for brainstorming, then, would be to write down everything. Every idea that you think of, whether it seems relevant to your story (or blog or whatever) or not, write it down. It might come in handy later, and if nothing else, it’s a push.
 
     As for outlining, well, that’s another story. I would say that I’m good at it, but that doesn’t make it less than what it is– a mess. An organized mess, but a mess all the same. I write down everything in order, from start to finish usually, with a very strange writing style. I’ll admit it– my outlines aren’t that well written. They include all-caps statements and interjections such as “YES” and “OH MY GOSH” litter the outline sometimes. What can I say? Sometimes I brainstorm while I outline.
     In conclusion, the reason why I’m especially good at these two aspects of writing is because no one else will see them but me. Nobody is going to read or judge my outlines and nobody but I can do the brainstorming.
     So you can probably guess what aspects I struggle with.
     That’s right, the ones that people will actually read.
     To be more specific, though, I struggle with descriptions. Dialogue isn’t hard for me and I think I am fairly good at action scenes, but when it’s time to describe the scenery from the mountaintop or the majesty of the throne room, I get stuck. Even if I can picture in my head exactly what it looks like, I still struggle with writing it down. Sometimes it’s because I don’t have a big enough vocabulary (I learn new words everyday, but it’s never enough.), sometimes it’s because I don’t know how to describe it in a way that won’t bore the readers. My friends always complain about the length of Dicken’s descriptions, but I have always been the odd man out– I’ve always liked how the classical authors took paragraphs to describe a room or a dress. It fascinates me and I love the pictures they are able to paint in my head. However, I understand in this age with this culture, readers are expecting a movie in their head. They crave the action and the dialogue. So when descriptions are necessary, writers are tasked with describing the character, place, or object in a succinct way.
     There are a few things that have helped me become a better description writer. One is the dictionary. Another is the thesaurus. Both are excellent tools for writing short but sweet descriptions, and I would recommend their use to all writers. It’s never too late to broaden your vocabulary. (Just don’t use a word like “unprepossessing” when you can say “hideous” or “ugly”, or a word like “jollification” when you can just say “fun times”. You don’t want to drag your readers’ thoughts away from your story by using words that break the flow! Unless your character uses big, strange words, I would avoid using them yourself.) Another thing that helps me is meditating on what the readers need to know. If you’re describing something like a horse, focus on the things that make this horse different, like it’s color or it’s size. The reader has an imagination and they know what a horse looks like, so you don’t usually have to go into too much detail. Same with most other things. Unless it’s wildly different and the reader won’t be able to imagine it properly without your help, sometimes short but sweet descriptions are for the best.
     A small disclaimer, though. Like I said before, I actually like reading long descriptions. Even if I already know what a horse or a dress or a building looks like, sometimes it’s the details that really make them come alive. They may be tedious for some people to read, but there will always be readers like me who enjoy them. So if you like to write long descriptions, don’t let me cramp on your style.
     There you are! The things that I, as a novelist, am good and am bad at. It’s different for all writers, so now I’m curious— if you are a writer, what aspects of writing are YOU good at? And which do you struggle with?
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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. brittneysahin
    Jun 22, 2015 @ 06:19:12

    Dialogue and developing suspense and tension are the easiest for me. I think description of people and places are harder–I see my book in my head so clearly- but sometimes the words to describe the scene can be a challenge. So, I usually write a scene without too much description to keep the book moving & then I go and try to add the literary flair back into the scene after :-)

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  2. DVM
    Jul 07, 2015 @ 07:01:48

    I’m a lover of tedious descriptions and intricate details myself, but it’s when the author starts using unnecessarily large words and awkwardly poetic (or outlandish, really) metaphors that I start losing interest. One of my biggest pet peeves, however, is when the character is describing something that they obviously shouldn’t know. For example, if a city girl were to end up on a ranch, she wouldn’t describe each horse by its breed. Why? Because she obviously wouldn’t /know/ what they are. She would describe the color and shape and height, but not, specifically, their breed. Or if a gladiator were to be talking to a woman, he wouldn’t describe what she is wearing in such vivid, grave detail. Maybe the cut and color, but most certainly not the type of fabric and the detailed name of the style. Why? Because he’s a guy, and men typically don’t focus on that stuff, don’t know different types of fabrics, and won’t know the name of the style of dress. It’s nothing against the city girl and nothing against the gladiator, it’s simply reality. Now, if the city girl studies horses in her free time, that’s a different story. Or if the gladiator grew up with a seamstress for a mother, he may or may not know more about fabrics and styles. Other than that, it’s just simply not realistic. And I think writers tend to forget this stuff. It always drives me nuts when a characters starts going off on a (sometimes very beautiful) description of something, but I’m sitting there wondering /how/ they know what the material is, exactly, or the very height of the object, or how they even know what the color Gamboge is. You have to keep your imagery in line with your character’s knowledge, not simply a thesaurus or what you, as the author, knows. Because you may know that the building is 67 stories high, but your character may not.
    Excellent post! I think description is hardest for me, too. So I get your struggle. *nods* It’s very frustrating…

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