Conniption over Description

 

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When I write dialogue for my YA novel, I love thinking up what characters will say.

And as for action, I could create scenes all day. (Well, maybe not all day.)

But description? I seem to avoid it like the plague. Because for me, it’s the hardest thing to get right. How much should I add? How little? Too much is boring. Not enough and the reader can’t be there with the characters in the scene.

It also feels as though the pressure is on to create the best descriptive sentence I can.

Or to try and make up the best simile. Such as….“Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.” — Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

When I see lots of descriptive prose in a novel, (also called “narrative lumps” – I thought that phrase was funny), I tend to skim or skip onward to the dialogue and action, because I like forward movement, and I want things to happen.

For this particular novel, the description needs to come from the mind of a thirteen–year-old boy. What would he notice? How would he describe his surroundings?

Off to the internet for help.

Some tactics I picked up:

I need to fit the description to the type of story. Luckily, my novel is action-oriented and too much description would get in the way of the pacing.

I should use bits of description in combination with the action. That way, I’ll blend it into the story.

Here’s some good advice on how to describe people from Carve Magazine.

I should keep in mind the five senses. Most writers rely on sight and sound. I should also describe smell and touch and taste

I like to study how the masters do it. A few examples…

“Off in the west a humpbacked moon lay stranded, colorless as a jellyfish. The air, utterly still, carried a fragrance of wood smoke mixed with the sweetness of mown grass that rose from the lawn.” Wallace Stegner, The Spectator Bird

“Behind a scarred littered table a man with a fierce roach of iron gray hair peered at us over steel spectacles.” William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

“In our bedroom there are about twenty small glass prisms hung with fishing line from one of the exposed beams; they catch the morning light and we stare at them like a cat eyeing catnip help above its head.” Ann Beattie, “The Burning House”

And lastly, I loved every single thing about Elmore Leonard’s writing tips. Especially, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

The above is photo from a recent trip to Argentina. I should try and describe it here, but I don’t want to!

Character Motivation

Matthew Limpede, the editor helping me structure my novel, talks a lot about character motivation. He pushes me to think about who the character is as a person— what the character is feeling—and why the character is doing what he/she is doing.

I seem to resist this aspect of novel writing. Instead, I want to write only dialogue and action and keep things light and cheery and funny. But if my readers are going to connect with my characters, I need to delve into the reasons my characters say and do certain things.

IMG_1232For instance, I’m currently writing the middle section of my novel, and the main character, Teddy, and a woman named Lucinda have just arrived at a Greyhound Bus station in a gritty section of Nashville, Tennessee.

Teddy needs to go to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, and I want Lucinda to go with him. But why would Lucinda, a thirty-year old woman, want to go to a bar with a thirteen-year old boy she’d met only the day before?

By having done a character sketch on Lucinda, I know she’s an orphan, and she’s now standing at a bus station with a boy whom she thinks is also an orphan. But what next?

I went searching for some resources to help.

I thought this post was helpful.

I could use the first sheet on the left to find some reasons. In fact, for Lucinda in this scene, I’d pick loyalty, self-preservation, past trauma, and repaying a debt as motivations.

And the new-age part of myself loved this interesting post using Enneagrams as a way to find character motivation.

Here’s what I’ve come up with for now…Lucinda would like to ditch Teddy, but something tugs on her to stay. She can’t bring herself to leave a kid with no money wandering the streets of Nashville, because it brings up abandonment issues she felt every time she left one foster family to go to yet another one.

I shall see if the scene stays like that!