Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Curse of Knowledge

~~I think it's unfair--the more you know, the more you have on your to-do list. Especially if you're a writer. Take details for example. We know we need them to make a scene real, but which ones do we use and how many should be included? Recently Diana Gabaldon posted a Master Class on the Books and Writers Forum on using details. Diana emerses her readers in a scene, but you never feel like you're drowning in details, so it pays to give attention to what she says. One great example from the master class is:

Use description to describe the narrator (in terms of attitude, relastionship, etc.) as well as the person or situation being described.

This really made me stop and think. All of FRIENDLY FIRE is told from the POV of Laura Grace Chandler. How well am I describing my main character from the details included in each scene? Here's some examples and what I think I was saying. You be the judge. Did I pull it off?

Ex. 1: (Aim--a reduction of tension)
The dappled shade and bright patches of vinca and impatiens along the path began their calming medicine. Magnolia blooms heavy with vanilla and lemon scented the warm air. The beauty of the place captured my mind as I settled into my rhythm. A flock of Canadian geese honked at each other as a mother goose, followed by five fluffy goslings, sailed by. The little ones were puffs of downy yellow-gray as their legs worked overtime to keep up with their stately mother. Male mockingbirds strutted their stuff, raising their wings in the time-honored ritual to show how big they were in hope of attracting the ladies, and I found myself laughing. The sap was rising, just like spring at the high school.

Ex. 2: (Aim: fear, worry)
Silk ficus trees draped with dust like Spanish moss and park benches had replaced the plastic chairs, but nothing disguised the institutional nature of DFCS. Air freshener from one of the offices still clashed with the disinfectant used in the restrooms. Neither scent was a bouquet I wanted to bury my nose in. Hunching in my coat couldn’t block December’s cold that penetrated the block walls.

Ex. 3: (Aim: uneasiness)
Streetlights glinted on the neighbors’ cars except for the ratty Ford in front of the Talley house.  Frowning, I stepped further onto the porch to see it better.  Rosemary wouldn’t have let one of the boys buy a car like that, but it was the same one I had noticed outside the school yesterday.  I shrugged. 

~~I'll admit to being an impatient sort--I want every scene I write to be it's best the first time through, but that's not reality.  But I think I'll have to go back and assess every scene for Laura Grace's emotional POV to evaluate the details. Not to mention all the other reasons for revision.

~~I have to remind myself of the Ira Glass quote:

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

~~No one said write was easy. Well, maybe knowledge isn't a curse, but a goal.
Happy Writing!


  1. Good post Zan Marie! Excellent points and examples.

  2. Just love it! All of it, Zan Marie!

    Your examples, I think, are brilliant, and beautifully written. I especially liked Ex 1 and 2! What a wonderfully descriptive writer you are.

    I really needed to hear the advice, as well. I get it. I'm so impatient and am forever wanting to see some improvement in my writing ~ particularly in fiction. I fear it is still very much in the beginner's stage. Yours, on the other hand, sounds well-rounded, interesting and mature.

    Finding my voice through my characters is proving difficult. I have a style, though not so sure it is distinct, which feels immaturely written to me. Perhaps I am confused as to who, exactly, is my audience.

    I've been working on building my blog, with some consistency. Jumping into the Book Writer's forum is next on my list!

    HUGE Diana fan, btw.

    Thank you, for this post!

  3. Scarlette,
    You'll never regret joining Books and Writers! I hang out in the Writers Exercises most of the time and I learn more each day. Without the Forum, I'd not be any where as good as I am. That said, I also know just how far I have to go. I'll have to post the January exercise and the rewrite next. You'll see.

    Thanks for the comments. Description is the hardest challenge for me. How to make it fit the emotions is a challenge. BTW, go to the link and check out *all* of Diana's master class notes. You won't be sorry. ; )

  4. Thanks again, Zan Marie. Diana's Master Class notes are very helpful!

  5. Beautiful writing, Zan Marie, and great examples of Gabaldon's points. Thanks for posting!

  6. I get impatient with myself too - I can *see* the effects I'm trying to achieve, why is it so difficult to pull the right words out of my brain?
    I think your sensory imagery is spot on, Zan Marie. Love the blend of colours and scents.

  7. Thanks, Deniz. : ) It is a lot of work, though, isn't it?

  8. Argh yes. And as usual the ones who can do it (still devouring Gaiman), make it look so easy...


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