Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writing in 140: Organic Description

Sometimes, I come across stories so heavy with thick description that the stories move at a dirge pace…if they move at all. A writer might, for instance, introduce a new character and then suddenly halt the story to provide a paragraph or more of character description—from race, hair color, height, and weight to personality and attire. When I see this, I talk to clients about weaving description organically into the story. Everything hinges on the story. As you are describing people, locations, buildings, etc., it’s important to ask yourself, “What descriptions are integral to the story I’m telling?” Once you get answers to that question, then ask yourself, “What is the best way to weave these descriptions into the story so that they develop people, locations, buildings, etc. and, most importantly, keep the story moving?”

Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically; her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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  1. First of all, I like the idea of sharing ideas in 140 words or less! We are all pressed for time.

    Secondly, this is so helpful. Keeping description woven into a stories fabric is key.

  2. It's pretty hard to paint a mental picture without gooping on too much paint.

  3. I just finished reading a 'literary fiction' (title and author withheld) that was so dense with description that I never did figure out the plot was about.

  4. Great point. I remember early on in my writing this was one of my main pitfalls.

    Now I try (in most instances) just to pick one focal descriptive element when I introduce something new.

    I find description is much easier to digest when peppering it in, rather than pouring it on.

    The 140 words is an interesting exercise, I think I may start doing that a bit myself.

  5. In a short story, the whole focus is on character development and description, and the challenge is to squeeze it in. Plot is secondary. In a novel, you should have room for some description, but there is a vast difference between a 300,000 word multi-generational historical saga and
    'pulp fiction,' which is all I ever wanted to write in the first place.

  6. I'm not into much description when I read or write.
    I have to go back and add more in my manuscripts all the time, so I'm Fraud I have the opposite proble

  7. I think a lot of authors over-describe because as they draft they are unreeling a movie in their head of all that they see. That's fine; it orients them to the world of story.

    But ultimately story isn't film, and you have to go back in and use only the most relevant and revealing material. Good reminder!

  8. I am going to try some writing in 100 or 140 words to practice saying exactly what needs said (and no more).

    The Write Soil

  9. Kathryn, I think you're right. I do that, too, in my own writing. My initial drafts are usually very descriptive, and I definitely think it's because I do several "screenings" in my head of the movie (er, story, lol) before I sit to write, so that first draft is usually very thick with description. Through revisions, I tend to cut out the description that guided me to write the story, and then smooth and revise and rewrite that description that's vital to the story.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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