Saturday, August 04, 2012

Watching a Full Moon Through Tree Branches

By Keith N Fisher

I attended an event to support the Pleasant Grove, Utah library. It was also the launch party for Tristi Pinkston’s new book, Turning Pages. There were several authors selling and signing their books then donating a portion of the proceeds to the library.

During the event, organized by Tristi, I sat next to one of my favorite authors and chatted about her books. I also listened as many unpublished writers talked to her about different parts of the writing craft and the trouble they were having. I was reminded of the many facets of the craft and the difficulty in mastering it.

While plotting might be easy for some writers, characterization might be difficult for them. Maybe its visa versa, and so on.

One writer talked to my friend about description and I perked up, knowing that has been one of my troubles over the years. In an effort to avoid flowery descriptions, I had developed a habit of getting from point A to point B in the quickest way possible. Then, an editor suggested I add more description because I had written the facts, but left too much for the imagination. I learned that being succinct is preferable in articles and short fiction, but novel readers want more details.

In order to fix the problem, I began to add more description and setting, but I’d made it too wordy. So, I re-discovered metaphors. Inserting details into a reader’s mind, with a few words, however, is not an easy task.

For an example, consider this paragraph I’ve been working on,

Two weeks later, the doorbell woke Rebecca from a nap on the couch. She kicked an empty Vodka bottle across the floor on the way to answer it.

It still needs work but you begin to understand what’s been going on in Rebecca’s life for the past two weeks.

If I described the light of a full moon through the branches of the trees, You’re mind would jump to a conclusion about setting. Now, if I take that same moon, and tell you about the light shining through broken dark clouds, you get a different idea. Then if I add the wind and perhaps the howl of a wolf in the distance, what do these words tell you about the setting?

A word of caution, however. The metaphors we use must provide an image for our readers. If you’d never seen a full moon through broken dark clouds you might have trouble getting the picture. You might not understand.

For a case in point, turn to a Star Trek the next generation episode. In Darmok, episode 2 of season 5, the Enterprise encounters a race of aliens who speak entirely in metaphor. Realizing that fact didn’t help, because the Enterprise crew had no frame of reference to understand the metaphor.

As writers, we must consider who our intended readers are. Will they understand our metaphors? Another problem occurs with too much familiarity. A cliché will provide resonance but it will also bore the reader.

Writing is like Tony Stark fine tuning his Iron Man suit in order to make it fly. Sometimes a writer hits the wall like Tony. If that writer keeps working at it, they will eventually get it right. They will have drawn a perfect picture in a reader’s mind with few words.

Notice the simile above? Like metaphors, similes can also get you into trouble. If you didn’t see the movie, you probably won’t understand the simile.

Good luck with your writing---see you next week.


Weaver said...

I'm horrible with this kind of thing, though I am trying to improve. But I'll never be a fan of a lot of description. I tend to skip over too much of it when I read.

Anonymous said...

It was fun to chat with you at the event, Keith! Thanks for being my seat-mate! :)

Julie Bellon

Ciara said...

I apparently write them well, but I couldn't tell you the difference. LOL Great post.