Monday, July 15, 2019

The Value of Wordiness

I knew there would be a little backlash after my last post. In "Writing, Construction and Legos," I talked about making description scenes important, and throwing out useless discussions of things that fill in the scene but otherwise don't carry much value. This is good advice, but the devil is in the details. As I discovered, a few people want to explore the details. Well, let's do that.

Some people told me that when they read anything, it always helps to have physical description to ground them, regardless of whether or not that image is valuable. No argument that details offer a stabilizing factor. However, the writer should consider how to use those descriptions to provide the most impact.

In the previous post, I used an example of a minivan. I demonstrated how the description of the minivan's color, shine, lines, etc., could be written very well, but the most memorable part would be the family stickers on the rear window with the father sticker scraped off with a butterknife. The latter provides more information than just looks; it helps establish story elements. However, if the writer finds it necessary to incorporate the minivan's appearance, then it can still contribute more than an image.

One route is contrast. A number of important character elements and plot pieces can be shown through contrast, as the difference becomes the focus. Look at our minivan: clean wax job, that candy-apple red paint job lighting up the road, every part reflecting the afternoon sun and showcasing the vehicle's razor-sharp lines and elegant curves of the aerodynamic body. Nice physical description because it suggests the owner's pride in the vehicle, although this may still not be important to the story. However, when we show how the father sticker is scraped off in such a crude manner;  the implication of a butterknife being used suggests a rash, angry action. Now we have the contrast - the passionately maintained minivan with the ugliness of the destroyed sticker. Something's clearly wrong, and the reader wants to know what. This is how pages turn.

Another route is characterization. Again with our minivan, the actual appearance may not make a difference. However, is the owner detail-oriented? Obsessive about appearances or upkeep? Overcompensating due to being forced to drive a minivan rather than a powerful, gas-guzzling 970 GTO? We can show a lot about our character through the presentation of their items, and in turn emphasize the visual details that showcase the character. With the overcompensating owner, draw the reader to details like mag wheels or the hand-drawn racing stripes on the sides; maybe how the paint job was customized to match what that GTO should've been. Now our descriptions show the minivan but they also explain the character.

Mood is, of course, a pretty easy one to work with. If the reader is supposed to draw a sense of freedom from the scene, then the minivan is bright, clean, and ready to go anywhere. It's aerodynamic and won't meet any resistance as it heads toward a wide-open future, with the father figure behind it just like the scratched-off sticker. Something darker or more foreboding draws attention to the tinted windows, hiding the passengers from the world, the shiny body casting a glare to make people turn away, to look at anything but the vehicle. The owner drives away as if trying to escape its past, but like the scraped-off sticker on the back window, it's never totally gone and follows them everywhere.

Whatever you choose to write about, get as much use from it as possible. Simple things such as supporting characters, descriptions, and secondary locations can contribute far more than their value if we put them to as much use as possible. The easiest route to do that is to try to include the item with a focus on contrast, characterization, and mood.

2 comments:

  1. In some of my fictional writing, I have intentionally left out detail because I want the readers to feel the story could be about them or someone they know.

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    1. I love that idea. In my book, I left out the name of the city it took place in. I wanted readers not to connect with Chicago or New York or some place on a map, but with an emotional landscape that they knew in their minds.

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