|Photo by SuperFantastic, via Flickr|
Reading a book involves “taking a plunge” into the world the author has created. If you’re the author of the book, you want your reader to become immersed in your story asap. This holds true, regardless of genre. Whether you’re writing a crime thriller, a fantasy epic, or a piece of literary fiction, it’s important that you should give the reader a strong sense of place and time and atmosphere.
Which brings us to the issue of descriptive technique. For your first draft, it’s perfectly fine simply to write whatever first pops into your head. For your next draft, however, you owe it to yourself to review your diction (word choice), figurative language (metaphors, similes, etc.) and selective sensory and/or concrete detailing.
This month, let’s focus on Diction.
Diction covers the choices you make with regard to individual nouns and adjectives, verbs and adverbs. In the case of nouns, as a general rule of thumb, the more concrete and specific your choice of noun, the more evocative your description will be. By a similar token, if you choose a noun with vivid connotations (good or bad), you often can (and should!) dispense with a supporting adjective.
Take for example a sentence like My aunt drives a rusty old car. “Car” is virtually non-descript; it could apply to any automobile of any make or model. The only thing that sets it apart from other automobiles is the fact that it’s “old” and “rusty” (which again isn’t much to go on). When it comes to revision, ask yourself, “Is there a single noun I could use that would convey the same impression more vividly and concisely?” Options would include alternatives like My aunt drives a rust-bucketor My aunt drives an Edsel.1 It’s always a Good Thing if you can make one word do the work of two or three.
A similar rule holds true when it comes to verbs and adverbs. When you’re revising, be on the look-out for adverbial phrases like “She ran quickly to the window” or “The taxi turned crazily around the corner”. Get rid of the adverbs (quickly, crazily) and find more evocative verb substitutes: “She darted to the window”; “The taxi careened around the corner.” Once again, choosing a single verb over a verb phrase conveys a more vivid impression.
Making revisions like these will not only liven up your writing, but also sharpen things up when it comes to pacing.
1 British readers, substitute Reliant Robin.
Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.