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Let's talk about descriptions

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Svrtnsse, Aug 18, 2018.

  1. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    I feel like honestly, knowing what you need to describe and what you’re trying to say by describing it will get you most of the way there. It’s almost easier to focus on the how, the prose, because that’s all there on the surface. But you can always polish words later—it’s more difficult during revising to cut through a flowery tangle of words to figure out what you do or don’t need to say.

    Oooh... While we’re on the subject of “what the character would see”, can we talk about describing your POV character’s appearance? I am a giant sucker for character description, I totally need to know what characters look like, and I’ll forgive any number of omniscient intrusions or glances in the mirror to get that information early—but I know many readers find blatantly inserted self-description obnoxious.

    I’ll list some of the ways I can think of to do this...

    - Description from another character’s POV - Probably the ideal, but if you only have one POV, not going to happen. Also might take a while to get to, if the POV switch doesn’t happen until later.

    - Omniscient beginning or insertion that describes the character - the style needs to be able to support this, and it can feel like an interruption, but this establishes a strong picture of the character right away.

    - The mirror/pond/reflective surface of choice - Oft maligned, but effective, and may be an opportunity for characterization - how the character sees themself.

    - Comparison to other characters, family or otherwise - Good option, when in-character, not very intrusive, but it can be hard to paint a complete picture just by comparison.

    - Character guessing how someone else sees them - A small favorite of mine, but again bad at creating a complete image - there must be a point to this aside, or the character comes off as real vain. Good for characterizing, again.

    For example, I used this one in my WIP:
    What are the tricks you guys use? Of course, this depends on how much you want to describe your character’s, if at all!
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  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Right, here goes...

    Actually, I don't have that much to say. I write in third person, so I can just add in how someone looks when they first appear without having them reflect on it overly much themselves.Edit: ythat might have been a bit hasty of me.

    That said, I looked over the introduction of Roy in Lost Dogs #1 and it ties in a little bit with the environment and how he stands out compared to the locals. It begins with describing the surroundings:
    Roy took the last few steps up the stairs from the subway station and emerged into the busy street. People everywhere. Noise and dust. Horses, camels, donkeys. Even a small elephant. Heat. Not a hint of a breeze.

    Better get moving or some fool would pick him out as a tourist and try to sell him something, or rob him.

    People from the cold, dark north weren't common here, and at well over six feet tall, Roy stood more than a head above the average Tin Jian human. Rough and unshaven, with short black hair, blue eyes, and shoulders as broad as a bull's. Fifteen years under the merciless southern sun had turned his pale skin a worn leathery tan, but it was still nowhere near the deep brown shades of the true southerners.

    He'd long since adopted the dress of the locals – loose flowing cotton in plain bright colours – and it made him a little less conspicuous, but not much. For today's meeting he wore a long sleeved white tunic and a long brown skirt converted into trousers using a clip at the bottom. Leather sandals and a broad brimmed hat.

    Then there's Alene from Lost Dogs #3. This also starts with a little bit of introduction to the setting to put her into a context:
    Alene marched through the night with fast angry steps. The city lay dark and empty around her, but the moon had come out to shine and gave her enough light not to walk into anything. She'd calmed down a bit since she left the man's apartment, but the beast within her still wanted blood.

    The man had made a fool of them. With false words he'd lured them into his den and tried to have his way them. The miserable bastard. They'd shown him. Shown him good.


    Not them. Her. She – the little black punk with the big red hair – Alene Moneya. Short and thin, with dark brown skin, green eyes, and a sharp angular face. Combat fatigues and black leather boots. A black tee that had ripped in the fight, and a pair of dog tags that said to donate her body and belongings to cancer research in case of death.

    For the evening, she'd let her hair fly, but usually she kept it tied back or in a wrap.

    Before this I hadn't thought about how I've tied the setting into the descriptions, but now that you (Nimue) mentioned it, I see it clearly. I was going to just include the actual descriptions, but I don't think they would have made as much sense without the context they're in.
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  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Yep. This is what I was doing in my NaNo project. I'd made the conscious decision to discovery write it and began the project with far more blanks than I normally would. So if I used repetitious descriptions only barely modified differently, or got stuck on one description for a lengthy bit, it was because I didn't know exactly what I was wanting to accomplish in that scene.

    Technically, I knew for the first 4-5 chapters what I generally wanted to accomplish by the end of those chapters; but, for all the little details for the particular scenes, I was winging it. I was also discovering the overall plot—where I was going.

    I think this may be why I used -ly adverbs so much. Placeholders. I knew what some action or event was supposed to be "like," but the best words weren't with me as I wrote the draft. I had to press on for word counts. You mentioned to Devor that those -ly adverbs often point at an underlying issue; I think maybe I used them precisely for this reason, heh. I haven't actually formed a work habit or writing process yet, but I'd've gone back and considered those -ly adverbs when it came time for revising the rough.

    I wasn't criticizing your example of the squirrel. I merely wanted to point out the differences between two approaches because they are significant. Sure, showing activity either way. But the discussion had veered so strongly to the methods used via a close third-person POV approach—which, at its extreme, can lead to a sort of tunnel vision in the narrative—and away from a consideration of methods for creating a broader view of a setting.


    One aspect of some types of intimate third POV: they tend to be very "in the moment." Even if a character is just standing in a wood and watching a moving squirrel (among other things), the effect can come across as "a captured moment." This is that character now, that environment now. Additionally, as shown in various examples of this thread, when we add a character reaction like a thought about what has just been seen or a string of thoughts inspired by what has just been seen, the impression is of events happening in the present, the character reacting immediately. The Thoreau example may use a different kind of "present," i.e. an eternal state or long-lasting state, but this is different than what often happens in intimate third person narration; the thoughts he'd developed in reaction to that state were not immediate reactions but thoughts arising from consideration over time. (My impression, at least.)

    I'm not saying a tight third POV is a bad approach, but that other approaches are possible. If they are possible, then what methods might be used to accomplish that wider shot and keep it interesting? Activity, life, yes. I don't disagree.
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  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I had some time to think, and I'll add a little bit more self analysis. Both of the descriptions are similar in that they follow roughly the same pattern. First a bit of context (in a way, this is the broader image that's being discussed here as well).
    Then there's the actual character.
    I list physical/visual attributes, like height and skin colour, and suchlike, and I list a few things that you can't see, but which still help you create an image of who they are.
    There's no way anyone would be able to read what the dog tags say, but now that you know it anyway, it adds to the impression of Alene.

    Looking at this paragraph with a critical eye, it's really just a list of attributes. Some of them more detailed than others, but still just a list. There's no action or motion at all, and barely even any verbs. Still, it works - and that's the main thing.
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Yep. Generally, introducing context in this discussion was my way of suggesting another thing to consider when considering the issue of importance. I think that every bit of description must be important in some way, although that's like a practical joke guideline for new writers because, hah, there are so many ways a bit of description can be important.

    But also, the difference between having mere images—or, less than that, mere things—and using imagery was on my mind. The appeal to the mind via use of context, even when you aren't focused on creating vivid imagery. This circles my mind mostly because I'm not the sort of writer that does well with imagery extended over a whole manuscript, heh. I mean, I like things and I like context, and taking the time to try and describe everything with vivid imagery to invite readers into my vision is just the sort of thing that can bog me down. Not that I don't do imagery here and there and frequently; but it can be fairly basic imagery.

    Then again, I think I'm not alone in that boat, heh. And even for writers who are great at creating vivid imagery consistently, there'll be passages and descriptions that are more basic, with basic nouns and verbs and to the point. So I think the consideration is useful for everyone.
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  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I think this is a common problem, but it's a far more complicated issue.

    An awful lot of our discussion revolves around the idea of interrogating the text, a scene, or the story in order to find what's important.

    But an opposite sort of approach might be just as important:

    If you want to include something particular, find a way to make it important.

    On the one hand, you have a story that you feel is important, and you are right to ask whether some bit of description, some info, is important to the telling of that story, in that scene, in that chapter.

    On the other hand, you want particular things to be in that story, heh. You want the story to be about more than the simple plot and characters, perhaps. You might want to provoke certain thoughts, have particular themes, have a tone, whatever. That grandiose castle, including its walls, layout, etc. etc., may be something you want in the story because it represents something or indicates something that you feel is important.

    A lot of what I've said about screwing up the narrative by including too much description of "unimportant" things at the wrong time came from the same feeling you've expressed. I really feel as if I've muddled things or spun in circles when I should have just gone forward with the narrative and stick to what's important to the scene.

    But, this spinning in circles could also be a sign that I know, at least on a subconscious level, that my interest isn't only in moving the plot forward.

    Even if this is so, that doesn't mean I'm right to stick to my guns and never shoot a little darling, hah; nor, that I won't have to reconfigure how I'm including info in order to actually make it work while preserving the story, pacing, etc., that I also feel is right.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2018
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  7. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Oh god. I almost always write in first person, so this is a massive struggle for me. Usually I don't bother, in most cases, because I don't feel it really matters overly much what my character looks like, especially in short pieces. However, in my WIP I do want a few key characteristics to stand out, just so that my MC isn't invisible to the reader the entire time.

    This is something that Rowling fans are having a hay day with, lately with Hermione. A recent live action production made Hermione black, with the (pretty decent) logic that Rowling never once said Hermione was white. She said she had curly hair, and was smart, but never did she specify that she was white.
    People who imagined Hermione as white (or as Emma Watson) went ballistic. Same with the Disney film A Wrinkle In Time. I always envisioned Meg as white... but it was never stated in the book.

    Usually I do it by having other characters say something, or comment on something physical... I do want her sort of gawky/nerdy twelve year oldness to be clear... but if a reader thinks she is black, or short, or looks like their friend Sophie from up the street because they have a lot in common, than that is fine with me.

    I use them in drafting for this very same reason. My first drafts are the most terrible crap anyone can imagine. I'm basically telling the story to myself. Some might not even call it a draft, they might call it a very detailed outline, with a lot of details that are crap. lol. But I use a ton of 'ly words, and boring descriptions, and even characters and sub-plots that don't exist in final drafts.
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    My initial reaction when I first read this was something along the lines of "no way!"

    Then I calmed down a little.
    My reaction comes from my experience with the current story I'm working on. A couple of times throughout the story I've had the opportunity to add in cool stuff, but I've decided against it. The story's laid out and it's meant to take the character from A to B, and I've got all of the elements and events I need to achieve that already included. Adding in more wouldn't have achieved anything as far as the story is concerned. It'd just be more cool stuff for the sake of adding cool stuff. It wouldn't progress the story.

    This doesn't really have very much to do with adding descriptions does it? It's more about storytelling, right?
    In my case, yes.

    In the case of descriptions it might still apply though, but it's not nearly so clear cut.
    Adding in little details that at first seem pointless and without meaning can still impact the story. Sure, it could be subtle, and you might not notice it, but it could still work. Often, a lot of things just happen and then pieces start falling into place in new and unexpected ways.

    I don't tink there's a hard and fast rule for this, and you'll just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it's cool to make room for something a little bit extra, and sometimes it's just not right to shoehorn something in just because it's cool.

    At the moment though, I'm squarely in a spot where I try not to add in things that don't add anything I don't feel is needed. It still happens, but that's what the next draft is for.
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  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I think there might be issues of style that affect the choices, also.

    Hand the same story idea, plot outline, and basic list of characters to two different authors, have them write it, and the telling will probably be quite different.

    Let's say in this story that we've told both authors the MC should be someone who feels like an outcast in his society, but we don't give the authors a physical description of that character. Well, one might make the character a redhead with freckles in a society that is predominately dark haired and dark skinned; the other might make the MC 6'8" tall in a society where the average height is about 5'10" for males. One wants a redhead, for some reason, the other wants a very tall man. These physical descriptions can come into play in other ways throughout the story, also. (And perhaps one will choose to make the MC gay in a homophobic society, the other will give the character synesthesia. A third makes the character an intellectual artist in a society that prizes combat over everything.)

    So there's something to be said, I think, about the way our choices of description are important from an authorial viewpoint but perhaps aren't required for accomplishing the story and plot. Something to do with authorial voice and style.

    This does bring up the question of whether some descriptions can be seemingly arbitrary for a reader, however. So the MC is blond with green eyes; does this become important to the reader? I have read lots of stories where I basically had my own vision of the character even if the author described that character in a slightly different way early in the story. This can become a little irritating if I don't get the author's description until later in the tale; but I just skim over that later description as if it didn't happen and keep my own vision in mind. The worst cases involve instances where something in the plot development or the resolution of a conflict or obstacle turns on the author's much earlier description: a city guard or law enforcement officer is lenient on the MC because her blond hair reminds him of his sister—but I've been picturing her as a brunette!

    For me, find a way to make it important seems good advice because it addresses the individual creative spirit. But this would only apply to those descriptions that an author doesn't want to live without, heh. We also have a vision for the story, so we have to weigh the two together sometimes and decide whether the description is worth the bother or might distract us in our writing or the reader in the reading.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2018
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  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I absolutely agree about advancing the story ... but ... this is fantasy, and fantasy has its own reasons and seasons. One of which is a sense of wonder. Our readers--not all of them, to be sure--love to see special effects, to walk through a magical forest, to stand in awe before the awesome, or even just to be told about something quaint or exotic (cozy fantasy?).

    That can be accomplished, I hear the Voice of the Sage intone, while also advancing the story or developing character. To which the Unrepentant Heretic replies, those are facile phrases but what do they mean? If I walk the reader through the magical forest, pointing out blue leaves and prehensile vines, I'm still getting the character from A to B. The story advances, however modestly. As for characters, how far do the poor dears need to be advanced? If I've a character who is a liar, is it sufficient to see him lie once? Does a second lie develop him? Or does a second lie do no more than describing a second tree with blue leaves?

    Even if I do not have my timid hero gain courage by battling those prehensile vines, describing the forest can simply evoke a sense of wonder, and that is sufficient unto itself. When J.G. Ballard wrote The Crystal World (a very weird book), he would have done a disservice to the reader had he not given detailed descriptions of this world, for the world was the point, at least in part.

    I would--am trying to--learn how to write vivid descriptions, sufficient unto themselves. I would develop the skill first, before decided to tone it down or cut it out. Description, with no ulterior motives, deserves to stand with dialog and narrative, not be disguised with caveats and qualifications. Once it's there in the story, the Pitiless Editor can swoop in and make her stern judgments.

    Or, as someone somewhere said once, and I may be paraphrasing: just write.

    Then write better.
  11. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    On the topic of advancing the story, how do you guys know when it's right to stop beating the reader over the head with description / explanation and move on? Do you target a very specific reading ability of user or do you err on the side of caution and go simple?

    I say this because the issue I had (not explaining half the bits of worldbuilding I dropped in to the first chapter) stemmed partly from other conversations (such as in the Life Day Writing Excuses podcast) where they suggest you drop info in without explanations to get across that it's ingrained, unquestionably, in society.
  12. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    I think it all depends on how you write and the audience you write for. Also depends on the scenes and the mood you want to set in those scenes. During action scenes I describe a lot less and focus on the emotional. It all leans on what I'm trying to accomplish in any given place in the story. Suppose when it comes to things like this I don't really think consciously of it...I just do it. Just write, like Skip said. It's during editing that things get smoothed out. I just don't think about any of this when I'm working else it slows me down.
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  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    An established author with a large following is going to be treated more leniently than a new writer. Her fan base will already have some trust in the author and will know that all will become clear in time. Perhaps even her reputation will smoothe the rough waters for new readers.

    Plus, as Princess Irulan might say, "A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct." (Dune) The goal of an opening chapter is to draw the readers in, not hold them at a distance from what is being shown. So a delicate touch, a balance between telling and showing, describing and leaving mysterious, might be required.

    Speaking of Dune...The first chapter uses various passages to slowly introduce the reader to the sort of power that a Bene Gesserit has. After Paul wakes and realizes the Reverend Mother and his mother are watching him, he falls back to sleep. He has a dream, and when he wakes again he realizes he is tense, so

    Paul sensed his own tensions, decided to practice one of the mind-body lessons his mother had taught him. Three quick breaths triggered the responses: he fell into the floating awareness . . . focusing the consciousness . . . aortal dilation . . .

    The meditation goes on like that for a long paragraph. So we are introduced to this idea of the sort of thing a Bene Gesserit does. Mind-body stuff, heh.

    After the meditation, a handful of short paragraphs, then his mother enters the room:

    He studied the tallness of her, saw the hint of tension in her shoulders as she chose clothing for him from the closet racks. Another might have missed the tension, but she had trained him in the Bene Gesserit Way—in the minutiae of observation....

    So this adds another detail and ties this to the Bene Gesserit (not just to a mother's particular lessons.)

    Eventually, not too long after, we are given a section that is more from the Reverend Mother's POV. She's using this same observation method on Paul. Then, back to Paul's POV, and after some interaction, this:

    A smile flicked the corners of the wrinkled old mouth. "The Lady Jessica was my serving wench, lad, for fourteen years at school." She nodded. "And a good one, too. Now, you come here!"

    The command whipped out at him. Paul found himself obeying before he could think about it.
    Using the Voice on me, he thought.

    So now we have a further understanding of what it means to be Bene Gesserit. It's drip by drip; also, showing rather than telling. Or telling then showing, as in the case of the meditation earlier.

    Eventually, much later in the book, we are introduced to the Weirding Way, which is how a Bene Gesserit may alter her perception of reality and thus gain the ability to move at lightning-fast speed against a foe. By this time, the mind-body stuff, the ability to notice the minutest details, and the Voice capability, have built up a framework for accepting the further ability to alter perceptions (mind) to allow super fast movement of the body, the way personal control via mental focus can have effects on control over not only another person's body but one's own.

    Another thing. Just because a person is rather familiar with something doesn't mean that person won't think about it. To some degree, this will depend on the character. An intellectual sort, or one prone to observe and ponder, as Paul is, may well have thoughts about things familiar to him. Another type of character might not unless in a stressful, unusual situation, when he's trying to piece together what is happening with the knowledge he already has. A third sort of character—the kind I like least of all characters—might go about in the world, in the story, constantly befuddled and reacting instinctively, emotionally, to everything that occurs, without ruminating much on those familiar things.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2018
  14. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    This depends on what the description is meant to do.
    If I just need the description as a visual aid I try to make it short and snappy - a paragraph or two.
    If the description is meant to do more than just show how something looks, I let it go on for as long as it needs to be.

    For me it ties back to the concept of first impressions.
    When you meet a person it takes you only a very brief moment to form your first impression of them, and once you've done that it's really hard to change it. I think the same applies to writing. The issue is that in writing you don't see the entire person at once, but you get their appearance fed to you through a sequence of words - one word at a time. Even then, I still think that forming a first impression in reading is really quick.
    As long as you keep taking in the sequence of words, your mind is still open to creating the image, but as soon as the words stop, your impression is formed. In the context of descriptions, I'm thinking the words stop at the end of the paragraph. That's usually when the context changes and the reader's attention is drawn to something else.

    For longer descriptions, there's more than just looks to account for. There's moods and depths and connections to characters and readers and the world at large to account for.

    In Lost Dogs #1 chapter three, the description of the location within which the scene takes place takes up one paragraph and a total of 38 words.
    Burj Fareena. Fifty-sixth floor luxury conference room. High-backed leather chairs. Polished oak table. Floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bay, and a small tray holding four cups and a steaming pot of tea that smelled faintly of mint.
    It's enough for what it is. None of the characters in the scene has any kind of connection to it, and it's just a backdrop for what's to come.

    In chapter 7 there's a description of Fylktown that's more than ten times as long (560 words).
    Eventually the wide streets of Malardal gave way to the winding alleys and tunnels of Fylktown – one of the older parts of the city, on the slopes south of the bay. Originally the entire area had been just cliffs too steep to build on, but anfylk settlers had taken it over, or so the story went, and with the help of dwarves they'd carved out their burrows in the rock itself.

    Supposedly there had been gardens and terraces too, but the city had grown and more fylkin had come to live here. In their haphazard fashion, they'd built new houses on the terraces and moved the gardens up to their roofs, and then built on top of that again.

    Nowadays, what had once been a nearly sheer cliff had turned into a maze of alleys and stairways and tunnels, and you could never quite tell whether you walked on a path carved into the bedrock, or someone's roof – or both.

    Not much sunlight reached down to the street level, even in the alleys which hadn't been covered by new buildings on top the ones that lined them. Here and there, torches and jellybobs lit the way. Fylktown wasn't a proper anetacht, but many fylkin still kept to their old ways and didn't hold with electricity and other such newfangled inventions.

    Roy suspected there were people living out their entire lives in here, never crossing the boundaries of Fylktown. A small underground kingdom within the city. They kept their own justice and their own peace, and as anfylk were by nature a quiet folk, the city officials left them to it.

    He liked it here. There was something comforting about the narrow alleys and the round doors and the silence. You hardly ever heard any noise – perhaps someone singing to themselves up on a rooftop, or through an open window. No one yelled or caused a disturbance. Fewer people were out and about here than in Malardal, and almost no humans. The locals smiled up at him, even though he stood nearly twice as tall as most of them and had to duck his head in many of the tunnels.

    Perhaps there was something to learn here. He'd always had a good eye for the anfylk. Mossy Barn back home had been one of his favourite places when he was young, back before things started going wrong.

    Anfylk were safe. Sure, they were short and not particularly strong, but they had this sense of confidence and safety about them that he almost never saw in humans. They made good food and the best cider.

    Even here you could get great cider in the autumn. He knew a little place not far from here where they'd serve humans – as long as you promised to sit on the floor and not break any more of their chairs.

    A big grin found its way onto his face. That had been a good night. Him and Jen out on the town looking for a place they'd heard about down in the harbour. They'd gotten lost, ended up in Fylktown, and somehow found their way into a tiny underground cider house bar. Both of their chairs had broken when they sat on them, but they'd paid for the damages on the spot and then bought a round for everyone in the place.
    The place is one that matters to Roy, and to which he has emotional connections. By showing off a little of the backstory, the readers gets an impression of the place, and by showing off Roy's memories, the reader gets to know Roy a little better.

    Also, the word counts aren't included as guidelines, but as a way of showing how much the length of a description can vary depending on what it's needed for.
  15. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Gah, I know. This get's tricky for me, though. I only have personal experience to go by, and it is anecdotal, but the example I have about why I lean more toward vagueness than too much detail is this:

    So when I was a kid my dad let me watch Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc, but I had to close my eyes during the opening of the arc. He didn't want me to see the horrors of what happened.

    So, with my eyes closed, I heard the screams and imagined the worst that my little seven year old mind could imagine. It was pretty gruesome, for a seven year old. In fact, so gruesome that years later, when I finally did watch the scene, I was shocked by how tame it was compared to what I had imagined.

    I always think about this when I'm writing... how much do I want to leave to the reader's imagination? How much detail will actually ruin the wonder of the magical forest? It's like Gandolf's powers... what is great about Gandolf, to me, is that his magic is not explained in any detail. Gandolf has the power to do stuff. I don't know what the limitations are... leaving it up to me gives it more wonder than explaining everything away.

    I think the is often why people say "The book was better than the movie." Usually you imagined a scene or setting looking a certain way, and in your mind it is the one true way it is supposed to look. So when a director shows us his way, it is ruined a bit. It takes the grandiosity and magic out of the way we envisioned it.
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  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    Game of Thrones, the prologue (chapter style) is a good example of description, but not explaining. An example bit, is that one character asks if the wall is weeping, another answers, but we aren’t told what about the wall would make it weep or not. Many writers would’ve lost to the temptation to world build! and describe the wall and why its weeping really matters, etc etc. My goodness, the history that could’ve been dropped in here... but no, Martin steers clear, while later in the book he goes into more world build detail. Oddly enough, the prologue is one of my favorite bits of writng from Martin, because he doesn’t take a deep breath and blow and blow and blow and blow, heh heh.
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  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Off-hand, I don't recall much odd terminology (like Weirding Way) being thrown around in GRRM's books. I suppose there are things like the Unsullied, Khaleesi and Valonqar. They're usually explained quickly or are understood in context. A lot of the other terms are simple combinations of familiar things or derived from familiar things: Milk of the Poppy, Turncloak, Sellsword. As for concepts in general, I'm not sure there are a great number of new concepts.
  18. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    This reminds me, in the book Bird by Bird by Ann Lemmott, she says that readers should have the feeling they are being privy to something secret when reading... like they are eavesdropping. We all know that feeling of "ohhhhh, I'm not supposed to be listening to this!" but it is so juicy that you just can't help but keeping listening because the words or emotions are so private and so raw and so dramatic that it is like a train wreck. Like listening to your parents fight, or being 10 and spying on your sister and her boyfriend. Or stumbling upon co-workers being inappropriate in the break room.

    Martin captures that because everything feels so real. Of course he isn't going to go into a long discussion about the wall because the characters already know all about it. The reader is like an invisible time traveller, transported to place and eavesdropping on these people. They have to "wait and see" and work out stuff on their own.
  19. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Ahhhhh, the is also true, and probably why it works. You don't want to be too opaque when introducing new concepts.
  20. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    Oh, man. I loooove describing my characters. This is usually reserved for the beginning chapters. Afterward I'll occasionally remind the readers what someone looks like by bringing in a descriptive phrase or through dialogue. It could be said I even tend to go overboard:

    The clacking of heels echoing down the stairs caught his attention. Long legs wrapped in a navy blue pencil skirt. A cream blouse tucked into a narrow waist. Soft, feminine curves swaying in rhythm to a series of graceful steps. Red lips. Black eyeliner like an Egyptian. Blonde hair down to her shoulders, curled under and parted to the side. Pearls decorating her slender neck. Features similar to Lauren Bacall.

    “Not really.” Frankie stood up and went over to the desk, quickly opening the drawer to pull out a doll. She looked so much like Nathan sometimes; the same softness in her eyes and facial expressions, although traces of Chloe were sketched into her cheekbones and nose. Dark hair like both her parents hung down to her shoulders and curled under, pinned to the side with faux-pearl barrettes like the current fashion. Petite. Reminiscent of a wounded baby bird that had fallen out of its nest but placed back in still struggling.

    Diamonds dangled and sparkled from her ear lobes, touching her exposed collarbone. Charcoal lined the fine brims of her cat-like eyes, rouge reddened her cheeks and lips, fresh roses and sprigs of lavender added color and pleasant aromas to her long, blonde tresses. The gown, spun from magical silk brought in from the eastern plains, was the color of a peach geranium in full bloom. Its train spread vastly behind her, slowing her down when she walked. Daintily holding her feet was a new pair of sealskin heels from the southern province of Lamar along the ocean. But she did not at all feel special.

    This time, however, a petite woman shyly poked her head inside. She was homely, with hair the color of a fiery orange sunset. Her skin was paler than ivory and she bore a strong likeness to Mr. Olson. Small, unsettled eyes darted in every which direction as if she were unsure of what to do next. Upon seeing her father, she ran to him and gave his arm a squeeze.
    Julian’s heart took a dive. She had to be his future bride. Not a looker whatsoever, not his type at all. He didn’t mind the loudness of her hair but it was her timid demeanor and simple way of dressing that made him certain she was everything opposite of what he liked in a woman.
    Nimue and Heliotrope like this.

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