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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/newsletters/action/archives/id/11620-Descriptions.html
Fantasy: October 19, 2022 Issue [#11620]




 This week: Descriptions
  Edited by: Waltz in the Lonesome October
                             More Newsletters By This Editor  

Table of Contents

1. About this Newsletter
2. A Word from our Sponsor
3. Letter from the Editor
4. Editor's Picks
5. A Word from Writing.Com
6. Ask & Answer
7. Removal instructions

About This Newsletter

Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.
         ― Patrick Rothfuss

This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.
         ― Mervyn Peake

I was shown into a room. A red room. Red wallpaper, red curtains, red carpet. They said it was a sitting-room, but I don’t know why they’d decided to confine its purpose just to sitting. Obviously, sitting was one of the things you could do in a room this size; but you could also stage operas, hold cycling races, and have an absolutely cracking game of frisbee, all at the same time, without having to move any of the furniture.
It could rain in a room this big.

         ― Hugh Laurie


Word from our sponsor



Letter from the editor

I have a confession to make:

When reading fiction, I rarely read descriptions.

My eyes skitter right over them, much as they do with ads, and for much the same reason: I'm not interested.

This probably does the author a disservice. A good description can really make a scene, character, or world come alive to the reader, and on those occasions when I force myself to slog through all the colors and sounds, it usually gives me a better idea of what the author is trying to convey.

In my own fiction, I try to keep descriptions to the bare minimum necessary to the action. It's not normally useful, for example, to note that a character has long, curly hair (unless they get into a fight and someone grabs said mane). I work on the supposition that audiences can project their own preferred characteristics onto a subject, scene, or setting.

Fantasy (and science fiction), however, can present some challenges for descriptions. If you're setting your action in the present, near future, or recent past, you don't always need to go into excruciating detail. We all know, for example, what a parking lot looks like. Most of us have been to airports or at least seen them on TV. Bars are familiar to some of us from personal experience; to others, from shows and movies. A human is generally a human: two arms, two legs, a head, some clothing (depending on genre). A forest is a bunch of trees; a desert tends to lack said trees. That sort of thing.

In short, when it comes to things most of us could expect to have experienced, we can take some shortcuts. But what about a spaceport? Or a fictional species? Or weather patterns that can include black ooze falling from the sky?

That's when descriptions really matter.

They're also useful in all kinds of fiction when you're trying to follow the old "show, don't tell" advice. Say you're setting a scene on a cold, windy day. You could, of course, just say "it was a cold and windy day." That doesn't engage the audience, even though it has the advantage of brevity (still too close to "it was a dark and stormy night" for my taste). No, you might write something like "Paul held onto his hat with one hand while using the other to hold his overcoat closed." That description implies wind and cold; it also describes in moderate detail what someone looking at him would see. It doesn't say anything about his height, features, hair, beard or lack thereof, etc., but presumably, those can be part of other descriptive sentences. (Also, the "day" part could be mentioned elsewhere.)

When using descriptions, it's also good to involve other senses. We tend to be oriented first toward sight, sound second. This is useful for things like screenplays, where sight and sound are the only senses that can be directly conveyed; characters have to express other sensory data indirectly, by commenting on the smells or vocalizing what something feels like to the touch. Story writers have no such limitations, though; we can also describe other features of the setting or person. "The warm scent of malted barley overwhelmed the visitors." "Jim took a sip of scotch, letting its peaty goodness linger on his tongue." "Sean lifted the unconscious elf, his fingers brushing the smooth silk of her hair."

These off-the-cuff examples have another thing in common: they mix description with action. That's my preferred method; others might disagree, and that's fine. Finding the right balance of description and action is part of a writer's craft, a stylistic choice.

Descriptions, handled well, can add a lot to a story. Just don't overdo it, or I'll skim.


Editor's Picks

Some fantasy for your enjoyment:

 Party At The Centre of The Earth  [13+]
Sometimes, you can delve a little too deep.
by Paradoxical


 
Circumspect  [E]
An Ottava Rima Poem.
by Teargen


 The Wraith  [13+]
A group of adventurers can't believe their luck.
by Just Jae


 
Mantra One  [E]
Visual scenes in my mind, trying to bring sleep
by green


 He Came With the Book  [13+]
a fantasy written for the ABC story contest--received an Honorable Mention
by ridinghhoodwitch


 
A Green Nature   [13+]
A young autistic boy grieves the death of his mother, but he soon discovers another world.
by J.J. Silverspoon


Harry the Hamster  [13+]
A hamster saves the human race - for Sally because she loves hamsters - Quills 2016 Winner
by Avid Novel Reader



 
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Ask & Answer

Last time, in "Horses, I wrote about our equine companions.

Steven (Penguins > Halloween) : I also live in the country, and am lucky to have a horse agistment property nearby, so a recent short story I had her (the owner) read, and she made some great changes. "Know what you write" is such a good bit of advice - and asking people and talking to different people can be so helpful. This is the sort of thing I've found just isn't there online - real people are the best resource.

Excellent newsletter. Thanks.


         And thank you—I had to look up agistment, which just goes to show that we never stop learning.


BIG BAD WOLF is Howling : As someone who as spent over ten years riding/volunteering at a horseback riding facility, the one thing that I know is that grass goes in one end, and apples come out the other - but said apples are no good for pies.

Still, it does bring up useful topics, like what would a centaur wear on their hooves?


         And would their trousers have two legs, or four?


Elfin Dragon-finally published : I love that you chose horses (or riding animals). I've researched a lot of different animals, horses among them. Yes, horses were cultural and geographical.
- The Mongols rode short, stout mountain ponies (Mongolian Mountain Ponies, cousin of Przewalski’s Horse) because they were short stout people that were nomads and often traversed not just the plains but the mountains as well.
- Arabs rode tall, light, fast horses (Arabian Horses) that could traverse the deserts with almost as much ease as their camels.
- English Knights rode large, heavy horses (Draft Horses) because of the armor they wore.
- American Cowboys rode sturdy, light, fast plains horses (Mustangs, Quarter Horses, Paints) because they were plentiful in the country and could do anything.


         I know why they were called Cowboys, but I always thought Horseboys would be a more accurate name.


brom21 : This reminds me of the lyric from Bon Jovi -"...on a steel horse I ride." It is unfortunately that horses are not as expensive as cars, particularly luxury cars like Jaguars. lol. Cars can go a lot faster than horses and a ride in a Corvette is an adrenaline rush like nothing else. Still though, the last time I rode a horse was a unique experience I'll always remember. Thanks for the NL!

         I once rode a horse through a Central American rainforest. Didn't even know until then that such an activity was on my bucket list, but at least I got to add it and cross it off.


And from my May editorial, "Cities

AngelFire : Nice article about city-building. Thanks for the insights and advice.

         There's obviously a lot more to cities than can fit in one editorial, but glad it could be a starting point for you.


And that's it for me for October. See you next month! Until then,

DREAM ON!!!


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