Ideally, I would blog once a week. That was the plan. And maybe if I were feeling sassy, I’d blog twice a week. But I don’t. And you know why? Because you.
I have had an overwhelming amount of writers reaching out for beta reads and line edits, and I am loving every second of it. I love learning about you and your specific writing styles. I love gaining knowledge right along with you. I love reading your stories, my heart simulating yours as I foster your art and envision the masterpieces they are becoming. Keep ‘em coming, kids!
For those of you who have been so gracious as to hire me, you know that I’m honest. If there are things that aren’t right, I speak up, right? There are many reasons for this; one being for the same reason I wouldn’t let you walk around in public with toilet paper on your shoe or spinach in your teeth or chocolate on your face. It’s just not right, man. You’re oblivious and everyone else is embarrassed for you and of you, and nobody wins.
Another reason is that I’m not the type of human to take your money and then fill you with false hope and tell you your writing is perfect to avoid hurting your feelings. Listen! If I’m serious about your work, I can only assume that you are, too. All authors have to take some level of loving and constructive criticism. In addition (and my clients can vouch for this), for every piece of criticism I dish out, I offer (on average) three possible solutions.
For the record, if you ever want to pay me just to have me tell you what a great piece of work you have, we can probably work something out. The price is a flat fee of a million dollars.
Now for those of you who are serious about your writing, I’ll tell you a secret. One that will strengthen our relationship and also may cause you to question it at first. But you’ll thank me later, I promise. There are times that I want to punch you in the stomach.
It’s always in the climax.
Stop giggling at the word climax. I’m not really going to punch you.
It’s when I’m at the truth—I’m finding out what our hero(ine) is truly made of. And instead of watching him/her FINALLY triumph and overcome the antagonist, I’m reading an entire paragraph about all the chairs in the room. Oh, the fucking variety. Let’s see how many ways we can describe the slabs of furniture intended to uphold the human ass and impress people with broad vocabulary and piles of adjectives because THAT’S MORE INTERESTING THAN THE FREAKING CLIMAX!
I prefer to call my punching desire “passion.” And I’m passionate because I care.
Let’s talk about pace. There is a time and a place to talk about chairs. But it’s not in the climax. It’s generally around Thanksgiving, when Linus and Charlie Brown are setting them around the ping pong table in the backyard, and Snoopy loses a fight to one after making a lot of toast.
Descriptions and longer sentences should be saved for scenes that lead up to big turning points. And what are our turning points? Have you watched the plot clock webinar?
Let’s say we are reading a story about Carol, who works third shift at a bar on the edge of town. She’s just finished a routine day of work and has clocked out for the evening. She waves to her coworkers and winks at her patrons, her face hurting from all the manufactured smiles she’s mass-produced for the last eight hours. She elongates her jaw as she steps out the back alleyway into the chilly night, her fingers massaging her chin as her heels clip on the jagged asphalt. Her hands reek of tacos (it’s Tuesday!) and she wipes them down the front of her apron. Ugh, she sighs. Apron. She forgot to take it off before clocking out. She brisks past the dumpster and around the corner onto the sidewalk, stripping off her apron like a showgirl and tossing it behind the well-trimmed hedges of Madam Theresa’s Psychic Readings. She scoffs. Don’t ever visit Madam Theresa. If she were any good, she’d have come to remind me to take off my apron, and saved her precious hedges. The night is colder than usual, the piercing bulb of a moon shining almost defensively, as if compensating for the lack of warmth it’s never promised since the dawn of time.
She hears something. Her instinct is to stop and listen, but she knows better. Not on a night like this. Not here. She picks up her pace, her heart following suit. The noise intensifies—footsteps following behind her, growing closer. Don’t look back. She is running. Her whimper escalates to a scream before being smothered by a gloved hand, and she is knocked down. Carol’s head hits the concrete. She blinks—no more moon. She can’t breathe—a makeshift gag. Her arms are pulled over her head; she is being dragged toward a car. She tries kicking. Biting. Writhing. The harder she tries, the more it hurts. She hears the distinct pop of a trunk. Tears soak into whatever is gagging her, and the last thing she sees is the black fabric of her apron draped across Madame Theresa’s bushes.
Carol is scared.
Notice the difference between the first paragraph and the second. The first paragraph is Carol in her ordinary world. She is calm; she is able to take note of various details—sights, sounds, smells, atmosphere—and we enjoy them right along with her. We understand the pain in her face, empathize with her smelly hands. We may crack a grin at her internal sarcasm toward the apron and the psychic. We flow through longer sentences with lots of description, consequentially setting ourselves in the scene with her.
Scenes like that are ominous. They are a warning of things to come.
The second paragraph has mostly short, staccato sentences. There is little description and lots of action. Suddenly, we don’t care about the moon or the weather or the smells. Shit’s going down! We wanna know what’s happening! There are no distracting adjectives—we don’t care if the gloves smothering her face were leather or if they smelled new. We don’t care if the concrete she hit her head on was right in front of her favorite coffee house or next to a fire hydrant. We don’t give a flying fuck that the car she is being dragged toward is a 2014 black Mercedes E350 Sedan with chrome plated rims and Flo Rida pumping from the speakers.
None of that matters because now we are more focused on the action than on the setting. When you disrupt a fast-paced scene with descriptions, you are slowing the pace—it’s the equivalent of slamming on your brakes when doing eighty on the highway. It’s the shit that urges my fist toward your abdomen.
Then we have a third paragraph: one sentence, three words. Carol is scared. A boring sentence, but alas! What emotion such a raw statement provokes! Don’t believe me? Which of the following sentences sends a chill through your core:
Is it just me, or is the clarity and straight-forwardness of the last one fucking terrifying? Do you see how too many words water down the intense, primal emotion we want communicated? I don’t need to show off with poetic prose and flowery verbiage to elicit the sheer hell Carol is experiencing; that would be counterproductive. I know it sounds cliché but our theme for today is: LESS IS MORE. It doesn’t make you a bad writer if you just say what you mean without donning it in a costume of adjectives and prepositional phrases. It makes you a WISE writer. A writer that people want to read.
So how do you know when to freely use description and when to stick with the bare minimum? Well, look at your plot clock.
Again, if you haven’t watched the Plotting webinar, do it.
Remember, when the MC experiences something big, we want the reader to be right there next to her. We want the setting vividly staged, the mood established, and all of our senses engaged so that we can have a virtual experience when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.
Now, back to the clock. If our main turning points are at roughly 3, 6, 9, and 10-ish, we know those are going to be high-action scenes. And high action = less description. Therefore, our descriptive scenes—our stage-setting—will be roughly 2:30, 5:30, and 8:30.
This absolutely DOES NOT mean you can’t have descriptive prose throughout the rest of the book. Remember, this is a guideline. This is to teach us where long sentences and flashy vocab are appropriate and where they aren’t.
I feel like I’m being mean. Am I being mean? Let’s do a giveaway.
Any brave souls feeling up to baring some of your writing in the comments section? I’d like to see an example from either your WIP, a finished work, or something off the top of your head of a descriptive setting-the-stage scene followed by an action-packed scene—similar to that hot mess I crafted about Carol.
I was especially mean to Carol. I just got her abducted for the mere purpose of an object lesson. Someone write about her and save her as your experiment in the comments. I’ll choose a few people to win Amazon gift cards.
Also, I would never punch anyone in the abdomen or any other fixed appendages. That would portray a disposition of complete unfriendliness and utmost hostility.
That would be mean.