Writing Descriptions

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I was talking to an author friend of mine about his book. Honestly, it was a great read and I was impressed by one element in particular: his descriptions.

He was great at it! Not too many, but not too few. It felt like he let the reader’s imagination control the imagery, but gave enough to ground the story to a specific image. It worked well.

That being said, I noticed my own failings quickly. I’m awful at over-description!

The Curse of Over-description

The symptoms are straining for any author trying to craft amazing fiction. You get bogged down describing in detail every facet of a world you’re trying to build. It’s especially easy for speculative fiction or memoirs, because you really want to paint a picture in those genres.

There’s a good way to fix it, though. You simply have to figure out what a reader needs. It helps to have friends to read your work in the early stages, or alpha readers when you get to the point of allowing strangers to take a look at your manuscript.

My friend ended up explaining that he didn’t actually have the same issue I did, but that he did have his own issue. You see, there’s an equally dangerous possibility with writing: under-description.

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A Barebones Manuscript

The Curse of Under-description

The symptoms are easy to fall into once you start to “trim the fat” in your writing. There’s too many ways to end up with a barebones manuscript.

You need to make sure to figure out what’s important to properly convey. Is it really important that the reader knows that the spaceship you’re discussing had five PD-40 Ion Engines with small carvings of elephant tusks and inscriptions in runes around the edges? Or is it better to say there’s five ornate ion engines?

Well, it depends. You can do “info dumps” as Ben Bova called them, but don’t do them constantly. You need a gentle touch!

Once again, those early readers are important. Get a friend to read through it, someone who’s going to be honest with you.

Hopefully this helps you! It comes from a personal place to me.


 

Maybe you’ll like some of my other posts on writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing with Inspiration

Or maybe a couple of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

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Book Review: Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick

seven-views-of-olduvai-gorgeI don’t know if it’s cheating to review this, but I received a small pamphlet, about 40 pages long, of Mike Resnick’s novella “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”. Since I read it as a single bound material, I guess it counts as a “book review”.

I liked this story! I really enjoyed it after a small adjustment period.

The story follows alien scientists researching the origins of humanity, who has gone extinct thousands of years ago. Humanity was an empire that stretched across the stars, but they began from a small world called Earth. There are seven flashbacks related to seven artifacts recovered related to humanity, and the scientists learn more about human nature as it goes on. Ultimately, it shows how humanity came about, and how it grew to become the dominant force in the galaxy.

Mike Resnick is renowned for his prose, and this story is no exception. His still with words is fantastic, and as a writer, his ability to plot out fiction shines through.

“Seven Views” is a fantastic story, and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in science fiction. It’s a great story about human nature.

The ending, without getting into spoilers, is a great way to cap the crescendo on human nature.


 

You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Writing with Inspiration

creativity_idea_inspiration_innovation_pencil_paper_plan_business-714869I often struggle to find a push to write when I’m feeling ill or tired. Since I have a full time job and a family, I’m often tired and just want to relax. However, I think once motivation is conquered, the next hurdle is inspiration.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anything. Other stories, people you’ve met, ideas you have in the shower, friends and family, and just generally living your life. That last part is important. How can you write about people and events if you don’t live your life?

Being an introvert, I get it. I get tired talking to people and meeting large groups, but I do it to interact and learn about human interaction. Your character dialogue might improve if you learn how other people talk. Who knows, you might even get inspired by a stranger to create a brand new character!

If you find yourself being boxed in, without an idea to move forward with, try stepping out and seeing the world and the people in it. Maybe that will help you as it has me.

Ultimately, inspiration is a result of what you put into it. Go out and experience things, and write about similar things.


You might like some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: The “Troy Rising” Trilogy by John Ringo

You might also like some more of my writing posts:

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

The_Voyage_of_the_Space_Beagle_(book)_front_cover

Older science fiction can be a little tricky. Sometimes you find yourself bored while reading the yellowed pages of an old hard sci-fi novel, or become enamored by the simple pleasures of pulp covers and ray gun wielding heroes.

In the case of The Voyage of the Space Beagle, I found myself fascinated.

Here is a set of basically found stories crammed together in a singular setting: the Space Beagle, a human vessel using futuristic technology (from the 1930’s) to travel through space and explore galaxies.

The book itself is interesting and fun. I’ve found that van Vogt’s writing style is a huge plus to his ability to address philosophical and psychological concepts in science and apply them to specific characters. In this book, the main character is a scientist named Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, a Nexialist.

Nexialism was coined in this book, and it is defined as the science that mixed all other disciplines together to the benefit of the whole. Interestingly, it was almost prescient in its understanding of cross-disciplinary studies, but modern science is still fractured by fields of study.

There are certainly interesting ideas in the book, but ultimately it’s a simple exploration story with several aliens and confrontations. The final story I found the most interesting, with an enemy that has to be read to be believed, and Grosvenor coming into his own finally.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes hard science fiction or older science fiction. It’s definitely a good read!

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

BookEditingThere is no scientific consensus on when to stop revising a first draft and how to move into a second. Stephen King mentions it in his “On Writing” (and I find I’m the same), that he’s the kind of writer who always wants to add things into his stories.

That’s probably a good place to stop your first draft and go into your second.

Here are the ideas I had for moving from a first draft to a second:

1. You’re done adding elements to your story.

The first draft is where you add things, where you add your foreshadowing, your themes between chapters, your exposition, etc. Hit your points and once you’re done, that’s it. There’s a time to stop and a time to move on. In this case, hit what you need to and move on.

2. Read it for consistency.

The truth is, a first draft is never good enough. Oh, if you’re Hemingway or something you can try to get away with it, but chances are you need to make revisions.

And every writer needs to read what he or she has written.

3. Make sure it flows.

I would make this your last chance to add anything. A good bit of advice I got early on was to add or move elements so that the story hits something important every three chapters.

4. Begin removing the unnecessary.

Clunky dialogue, exposition that feels forced, and any number of added elements can be removed to make it flow. There’s some great books on how to do this, but just know it’s important to stop adding things and start taking them away.

A good rule of thumb is to remove about 10% of the word count. For long science fiction stories (my forte) you can go from 120,000 words to 108,000-ish.

Also remember, with this, to show don’t tell. That means a ton of what you have in narrative form shouldn’t be telling your reader what to think, but leading them to think it.


 

You may like some of my other posts about writing:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Revising Your First Draft Novel

Also check out my book reviews:

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Also make sure to follow my on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Sc48The story of a military recruit entering into a space program seems commonplace in science fiction these days. There have been any number of attempts, from Marko Kloos’ Terms of Enlistment to Ender’s Game, but the original “Space Cadet” novel was by Robert Heinlein in 1948.

This book was one of Heinlein’s “Juveniles“. These were books meant to appeal to a teenage boy audience and inspire scientific ideas. Interestingly, he also wrote three stories for girls with a female protagonist, but that’s for another day.

The main character is Matt Dodson, but he often takes a secondary role. In the beginning, we learn about the Patrol and their efforts in our solar system. We learn about aliens and colonists and the state of governments in the future. It’s explained early on that the Patrol exists to make sure war never breaks out again.

However, things are a little more confusing than that. 

Space Cadet is one of those books that grabs you half-way through and forces you to keep reading. I was hooked at that point and refused to put it down. The part on Venus is a little odd, and almost jarring. It was interesting to see the characters interact in a situation like that, but the main character stopped feeling like the main character at that point. Also, the ending felt a little underwhelming.

Ultimately, I would recommend this for anyone who’s interested in some of Heinlein’s earlier work; it was the second of his “Juveniles”, which culminated in Starship Troopers as his thirteenth attempted entry.

Revising Your First Draft Novel

typewriter_keys_letters_numbers_type_old_vintage_antique-1167460Writing a novel is an exhausting, time-consuming process. But finishing the first draft gives you an excellent feeling! Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”

I already did one post about when to completely rewrite your novel, but what do you do if you finish it and want to revise it?

Here’s 5 tips for revising:

  • 1. Read It

Captain Obvious, to the rescue! It’s useful to also keep a pad nearby and jot down any themes or images you want to reference later in the story. It’s a nice idea to have some idea of symbolism or foreshadowing as you go through.

  • 2. Correct Grammar/Spelling

Really, basic correction from the first edit. These sorts of things should be fixed right away to avoid wasting time in the future.

  • 3. Add a Blank Page Between Chapters

I owe this idea to James Duncan from Writer’s Digest. An excellent idea that really helped me! I highly recommend it, as it’ll help you go through your manuscript easily.

  • 4. Write Down any Plot Elements You Need to Address

Sometimes you have things you want to address that are missing. This is easily fixed! Figure out where you wanted to go, and jot it down as well.

  • 5. Create a Checklist for Updates

Now that you have both the symbolism and plot elements you need to address, get down and dirty and create a check list for this. It’s useful, because it helps you figure out what’s missing in the story.

From there, you have rewriting and creating your second draft.

Have a good time writing!


Check out my other posts:

Finding Your Writing Style

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Going from Outline to Manuscript

And maybe you’d like to read one of my book reviews:

Book Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!