Sunday, January 24, 2016

Defying Description

The writing world is full of contradictory advice – be vivid, leave it up to the audience, write boldly, write subtly, create a supporting cast, don’t overdo the number of characters, etc.  It’s enough to make you throw your hands up in frustration and scream.
One of the areas writers struggle with is how much detail to put into the work.  If your character is running someone through with his blade, how vividly do you describe the action?  Do you run through the sound effects of the gore, like maybe how it sounds like you’re slicing a turkey?  Can you describe the river of blood that splattered upon the floor?  Or do you merely allude to the gore by mentioning a trickle of red and telling how your character’s enemy collapsed to the floor?
Admittedly, one of the areas I’ve struggled with this is in regard to sex.  Sex is an ever-present part of our world, and ignoring it would be like pretending the sun doesn’t shine.  But do we get heavily into it, talking about penetration and bodily fluids, or do we dance around the subject and let the reader’s mind become the porno theater?
The answer will be different for each of us.  For me, I vary between excruciating detail and allusion, and which way depends on what I want the audience to experience.  There are times the story calls for specifics in order to trap the audience in the moment.  If I need to get the reader to hate the villain, I’ll describe his rape scene or murder scene in excruciating detail, for I need to evoke a specific emotion, so I need the audience to know just how depraved the villain can be.  However, if I want to get the audience to experience wonder or a little curiosity, I’ll leave parts out and let the reader fill in the blanks, where what the audience comes up with is sure to be more outrageous than I could conceive.
Pick up any tome on how to write a novel, and one of the cardinal rules you’ll encounter is to find ways to leave out adjectives and adverbs.  Usually, in BIG BOLD WARNINGS, experts tell us that this makes your work hard to read and no one will like it.  However, has anyone ever read Dean Koontz?  I picked up one of his novels recently and found it to be overflowing with added descriptors.  Koontz violates just about every rule on the use of modifiers that exists, yet he has a devoted following and has sold more than most of us will.  So why does he get away with it when all the “experts” say not to do so?  Because he’s found his audience.  His readers like that kind of stuff.
For all the hoity-toity lectures we get about the sophistication of the audience, most folks just want to read a good story.  Getting too flowery or pompous turns off the masses, and that leads to no book sales.  You have to tweak and grow as your writing grows, but don’t stray too far from who you are.  Remember, even experts can be wrong, and writers like Koontz prove them wrong every day.

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