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Friday, August 29, 2014

THE ABC'S OF HOW 'NOT' to WRITE SPECULATIVE FICTION: V is for VAGUENESS

WHEN WE WRITE WELL, WE PAINT VIVID MENTAL PICTURES AND ENGAGE OUR READERS EMOTIONALLY. When the picture is unclear, word choice may be at fault. The following examples are similar to those I have come across in the On Spec slush pile. They look as if they should evoke images, but they are vague. We don't get a strong sense of what the writer is trying to convey or what the character is feeling:
  • The city enfolded me in its crushing intensity, the pavement a power in and of itself, forcing me to my sensitivities. (Sensitivities? What are those, exactly? This description would be more engaging if the character focused on what he saw and felt - towering buildings of concrete and glass, hot pavement, tired feet, and a sense of feeling small, unimportant, claustrophobic, or lost among an uncaring crowd.)
  • A barrage of cacophony filled my ears. (Even a cacophony is made up of particular sounds. Are people shouting? Is a radio blaring? Are horns honking? The writer could go even further with a strong metaphor describing these.)
  • The hidden laboratory was a bizarre compilation of technology, waiting to be explored. (What kind of technology, from what time? Does it involve wiring? Tubing? Alembics? Pickled corpses? Machinery? Bodies suspended in tubs?)
  • This was a neighbourhood where people didn't do much. (Was garbage spilled across the sidewalk and left there to rot? Were there rats nosing about the trash heaps? Were watchful, unemployed men loitering on corners? Were there old cars abandoned in the street?)
  • Her euphoria reflected the randomness of the instant. (What does 'randomness of the instant' mean? Was her happiness fleeting, or was she not in her right mind?)
Whenever a good friend of mine writes, she continually asks herself: what does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? How does it smell? As a result, her writing is juicy and vivid. Readers want to be set into our worlds. The only way to accomplish that is to be particular and thoughtful about what we show them.

When writing, go for specifics rather than what is vague. At the same time, don't go overboard with your description. Many readers lose interest if the description goes on for too long. A few choice phrases of what your character sees and feels should serve you well.

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