Sunday, May 29, 2011

Writing that First Novel - Get Specific

The number one mistake I see new writers make is lack of important and specific details. Weak writing often does what I call "glossing" over the story. Writers are often so eager to just tell the story, they forget the little specifics that paint the details to the picture. If you saw the heartbreaking movie "The Door in the Floor," the main character is mentoring a young writer named Eddie. Toward the end of the film, he mentions, "They were Nike Air Jordans ... details Eddie, details." This reference called back to the shoe his wife went to retrieve for her injured son only to discover the shoe still attached to the limb. It is these specific details that draw us in and help us understand what the scene looks like in our mind's eye. To simply say a shoe doesn't work on the same level. What kind of shoe? A boot, a loafer, a sandal? The specificity is what makes it stand out and creates clarity. I often see writers who will generalize an entire scene. He walked into the backyard and sat down. vs. He walked into the overgrown backyard where the tall grass touched the tops of his hands. Among the weeds, he saw a rusted lawn chair with the plastic straps decayed and falling down to create holes in the seat. He sat with a plunk into the chair, folded his legs, and gazed into the grass forest with a terrible longing. Is this picture so much clearer? It also sets an interesting tone and mood. Why is our character longing and lost (and when I say lost, you also feel that he is engulfed by the grass and lost in it). The background becomes your metaphor. So, next time you're working on a scene, keep it specific and use the setting to set the tone for the novel.

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