Thursday, August 1, 2013

Using Description To Improve Your Writing

21,597… Yup, 21,597 words - ten different pieces - written and revised in four weeks and that doesn’t include my blog posts here and over at Alchemical Words. Add in the blog posts and the grand total for the month of July comes to…

34,934 words. I am exhausted. But happy.
What is felt like to write all that in four weeks

I’ve been writing for a long time. I’ve written a lot of things that I’ll probably never share with anyone except my laptop and even my trusty Mactop probably groans at times with what it is required to keep in its memory.

Here’s what happened. I’ve been working on the end of my first really full-length novel but I began to get frustrated with my writing. I know it’s decent and probably even good but I didn’t think it was good enough so I took some online writing workshops.

These were decent but I found them to be superficial. If I had questions about more in depth topics, I was directed to another workshop then another workshop then another workshop with each giving me more superficial information. I wondered why, especially since I was paying for the blasted workshops, why somebody couldn’t just answer my damn questions. While I made some good friends, I always came away from the workshops frustrated. So I took the plunge and enrolled in classes at the university here in town.

I just finished my first creative writing class – ten pieces for a grand total 21, 597 words, a head full of knowledge and some serious feedback from an professor that knows what she’s doing - Lisa Lewis. She won 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry and has published about a gazillion pieces of poetry. She even has her own Wikipedia page. Not to shabby, eh? So, what did I learn?

One thing I learned is that, in my writing, I tend to do a lot of what I call blocking or giving stage directions. This character giggled. That character frowned. I was missing a lot of good opportunities to use detail and description. Was I being a lazy writer? No. But I was being an inattentive writer. A good writer pays attention and looks for these opportunities to give the reader details about a character.

Take the sentence:

Billy frowned. “I say we jump it,” he said.

Or:

“I say we jump it,” Billy said, frowning.

There’s technically nothing wrong with this sentence but it doesn’t tell the reader anything about Billy other than he’s not happy and wants to jump something.

What if it was something more like this:

“I say we jump it,” said Billy. He pulled off his baseball cap and scrubbed his fingers through the black stubble of the crew cut worn by all the men in Billy’s family. “Yup. It’s the only way.” He tugged the cap back on his head and spun it around backwards.


Maybe not perfect but we know a lot more about the character. We know he has black hair that he wears in a crew cut. We know he has number of men in his family - a father, brothers, and maybe uncles. We also know that this haircut is something worn by all the men in his family, suggesting maybe military or sports activities. We know he wears a baseball cap and that he uses it as a form of nonverbal communication, which might suggest that he either plays baseball or is a fan of the sport.

Definitely a whole lot more information is given here than in the first sentence. This is something we can all do to improve our writing. Watch for those places that give you a natural point at which you can expand your writing and bring the reader further into your world in dribbles and bits. I think it feels a whole lot more natural than resorting to long blocks of exposition and far more eloquent than simple stage directions.

What are your thoughts about ways to use description?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review of The Viscount's Son on Alchemical Words

Just quick note to let everyone know I just posted a review of the supernatural fantasy "The Viscount's Son" by Aderyn Wood on my fantasy genre blog: Alchemical Words.

This is a great story and she has is offered on Amazon right now for the amazingly low price of 99 cents. That's less than $1 for a good read. I really enjoyed it and I'm a picky pain in the backside.

Check out my review then head on over to Amazon and get your copy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Never Too Old For College - Going Back To School

I decided to go back to school. I already have a Bachelors and a Masters so why would I want to do this? After all, I'm not that young any more. But here's the thing. I have always wanted to be a writer. That was what I set out to do in the first place but I got diverted by well meaning friends who worried that I wouldn't be able to support myself as a writer. Writers live in some cheap, run down loft and drink to excess, right?

So I did what I thought was the smart thing. I got a degree in counseling. And I was good at it. But it almost murdered my soul. They neglected to tell us in grad school was that there are crazy people out
there that will try to hurt you even thought they came to you for help. They forgot to tell us that if you are personable, people will refuse to pay their bill because they decided to see you more as some kind of friend they vent to once a week rather than their therapist. I had four different clients declare bankruptcy. I had to write off a healthy five digits worth of debt. After one especially nasty stalker client that broke into my office, I quit. I just couldn't do it any longer.

I didn't do anything for a long time. Then, finally, after a lot of poking and prodding from my family, I decided to go back to school and do what I had wanted to do in the first place.

Filling out the application was a lark and getting accepted was a breeze. The problem was that the university wasn't sure what to do with me. I already had two degrees and they weren't sure how to classify me. They still aren't sure. But I got enrolled.

My first class was this past May. A three week summer class in Post Colonial Literature. I was incredibly anxious... okay, terrified. All I could picture was a classroom full of eighteen year old children that had gone to school with my daughter. I was going to be that old person. I remember seeing older people in my classes back when I was first going to school. Everyone looked at them like they had three heads or like they were going to morph into something dreadful at any moment.

I was pleasantly surprised. I fit right in and even made some friends. Granted, this was an upper division class and the "kids" were in their early to mid twenties but still, I wasn't the three headed oddity. I knew I had done well but there was also a subjective component to the class grading.

Then there was the final. I did a presentation on Beach of Falesa by Robert Louis Stevenson. I had to learn how to do a Powerpoint. Crap. My daughter helped me figure it out. They never had this stuff when I was first in school. Hell, I had used a typewriter the first time around. Ah, technology - bane and blessing.

But then the unthinkable happened... The cool fonts I used in my Powerpoint didn't show up right. Instead of the artistic fonts chosen to convey the feel of the South Seas, the fonts defaulted to something like Tahoma. The slides looked dreadful. I got rattled. I didn't present as smoothly as I had envisioned it in my head. I sweated the grade. The waiting for grades to be posted was well and truly dreadful. But I got earned an A and no one treated me like I had three heads or leprosy.

So here's what I've got to say to those of you that are considering going back to college at 30, 40, 50 or even 60.

DO IT.

Swallow those fears about being the oldest one in class. God knows, if I could do it, you can do it. We older students are what the university considers "non-traditional." We are embraced and welcomed. I found that my professors appreciate the opinions of someone with life experience. It brings another level of depth and understanding to class discussions. We know things and think of things that the average college student, inexperienced in life, can not to see or consider.

We are there because we understand the value of education. We take the classes seriously and we do our best work because it means something more to us at our age. I've got a lot more to say about this last thing but I'm going to save it for another post.

Just remember, you are never too old to go back to college. If I can do it, you can too. I'd love to hear from anyone that has gone back to school. What was it like for you?