Okay, I’ve been teasing you. Just a little bit. Asking repeatedly, are you ready for NaNoWriMo? Making you wonder if you really are. Wondering, what’s all this stuff about my dialogue being compelling? Is my plot structure in the right order? AAACK! YOU’RE SCARING ME OFF!!!
Then what do I do? I give you a link to purchase my newly released Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. Blatant marketing. Just call me Spoil Sport.
So today, I’m not only going to ask a question, I’m going to give you at least part of the answer. Just so you can see that, yes, in referring you to my book, I am, indeed, offering real help.
Are you ready for NaNoWriMo? Do you know how to use descriptive language in setting?
Here’s an excerpt where I cover that exact subject in my book:
Descriptive language is what distinguishes beautiful prose from the mundane. While this is true for every element of fiction writing, no where is it more true than with setting description.
Let’s examine this sentence:
There were trees on the other side of the river. In the distance you could see the city on the side of the mountain.
We get a picture here, of sorts. We know the narrator is standing on the bank of the river, and can see trees on the other side, as well as a city on the mountain side. But it’s a rough sketch at best. We can’t really picture the trees, because we don’t know if they are evergreens, saplings, or old growth oaks. The sketch is also black and white. There’s no color in it at all.
Let’s see what happens to this black-and-white setting description in the hands of Flannery O’Connor in her story, The River:
Across the river there was a low red and gold grove of sassafras with hills of dark blue trees behind it and an occasional pine jutting over the skyline. Behind, in the distance, the city rose like a cluster of warts on the side of the mountain.
Both descriptions are two sentences long, but how much clearer a picture do you get from O’Connor’s description? We now see sassafras trees, their mitten-shaped leaves glowing red and gold in the autumn light. (We know it is autumn because otherwise the leaves would be green.) The red and gold is punctuated with splotches of dark green from the pine trees that dot her description. Do you think the narrator prefers the beauty of nature, or life in town? We can infer the former by the description of the city as a “cluster of warts on the side of the mountain.”
Of course, there I more to it than that. The best setting also invoke more senses than just sight, as this one does. Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set deals with that issue, too.
Here’s an exercise to work on as a NaNoWriMo warm-up. Rewrite this familiar but extremely bland sentence to make it colorful, and befitting a novel worth publishing:
Over the meadow and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.
Don’t be scared off by NaNoWriMo. Lots of writers make the goal of 50,000 words during November (that’s 1,666 per day!). Just remember: write like your life depends on it. Don’t censor yourself. But realize that, on December 1, you’ll have to go back and edit your work. NaNo does NOT produce a finished manuscript. It is meant to help you hash out your first draft.
And I’m here to help you refine that first draft into a manuscript you can be proud of.
So, tell me, are you ready for NaNoWriMo? I hope the answer is a resounding YES!
I’m glad that Smoky’s writing workshop material is available now in written form. I was fortunate to participate in her workshop a few years ago, after a long career in journalism, and it was very helpful to me as I made the transition from objective news reporting to creative writing. Since then, I’ve written four novels. Smoky’s straightforward, practical approach to creative writing is much better than most “how to” books on the subject. Her exercises cover all aspects of fiction-writing. For any writer who doesn’t have access to one of her workshops, I recommend this set in full confidence that it will make you a better writer.
~Robert Hays, author: Circles in the Water, The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris, The Baby River Angel, and Blood on the Roses