D is for Description

“We think in generalities, but we live in detail” – Alfred North Whitehead

I suppose you could write a novel without description but I’m not sure how many readers would continue to read it to the end.  You might have the most intriguing plot and characters that seem lifelike but without description, it would feel like reading a grocery list, vital information but not very interesting.

Good description uses the senses, all of them. It helps ground the reader in the setting and done well, it can make them feel for the characters.  Be specific and it will pull the reader into the story and don’t settle for a word because it is the first one that came to you. If a sentence feels off, look at those descriptive words and see if you might find something that is more specific that can create an emotional connection.  We may not have all been to Laguna Beach but we have probably been to a beach or we’ve seen one on television or in movies. How did the sand feel under your feet, the sun beating down on your skin, the cold water lapping on the shore over your ankles? Can you smell the fishy smell off the ocean?  Lick your lips, do you taste the salt?  Use the descriptive words that are universal to the majority of readers. Being universal will hit the chord that makes the connection and will pull your reader into the story through to the end.

Description is like using salt and pepper, too much and it will ruin the story, just enough and it will enhance the flavor.

Keep your writing notebook handy. It’s not just for story ideas. Next time you’re out and about with a little time to spare, jot down a description of where you are. Describe the people and the setting. Pick out someone who might be an interesting character and describe them in detail. Next time you need a character, dig through your notebook. You may have already found the main character for your next book, or maybe a secondary character you never thought of.  Describe the sound of tires squealing, bickering adults, whiney children, the taste of the frozen yogurt at the mall, the smell of the wild flowers while on your morning walk. Get out and live life and mine it for your descriptions. “Connections”, the short story I had published came to me after I saw a homeless woman downtown.  She intrigued me and I started asking myself questions about how she came to be in that situation. The thing that stuck was the way she was dressed, in layers with her shopping bags at her feet. It was her feet that really bothered me, she wore sandals with white crew socks and her feet were green from the grass. I don’t know why but that really bothered me.  It bothered me enough to write about her.

With this long Memorial Day weekend, I hope you all are finding a little time to write and of course read.

Until next week,


C is for Cliche

“A cliché is like a coin that has been handled too much. Once language has been overly handled, it no longer leaves a clear imprint.” – Janet Fitch

We often think of words when we think of clichés but they are more than words or phrases, they can be plots, settings, situations, or characters. clichés are what usually pop up first because we’ve heard them so often, they are imprinted on our brains.

Revising will weed out these blunders. When you revise your own work or critique someone else’s make a point of looking for anything that has been overused.

Some suggestions when revising:

  • Highlight clichés and then see how colorful your page is. Then tone it down.
  • Read your work aloud, sometimes that makes it stand out more.
  • The first choice may not be best, list more choices and choose one that doesn’t feel so stale.
  • Don’t settle for common settings, situations, or word choices. Now is the time to look for something more unique.

We had a wonderful CIFW meeting this month and thanks to Tami for sharing her work for critique. I left motivated to come home and write. Anytime that happens, it is a good day.

I’ve been reading a couple of books the past few days. One fiction and the other writing reference. The novel is ‘The Witch’s Ladder‘ by Dana E. Donovan. It is the first in a series. I don’t usually buy self published books but after reading a few reviews decided to check it out.  I have to say, I think these are very well written. I have purchased two so far and unless something totally throws me out of the story, will probably buy them all.

The reference book I am reading is ‘Outlining Your Novel’ by K. M. Weiland. I really like her suggestions for outlining. She has a step by step approach that makes sense.

Now that life has gotten back to some semblance of order, I plan to get myself into a routine of writing. I met a woman this weekend who is married with two small children. She is working on her second book, and no one knows she is writing. She attended a meeting this weekend and told her husband she had a few errands to run. I think I know where she is coming from. It is hard to tell everyone what you are doing, cause what happens if it doesn’t go anywhere. I hope she continues to write and come to our meetings.  She inspired me, more than she knows.

Have a great week writing, and reading.


B is for Backstory

“A writer is a man who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do.” – Donald Barthelme

If you have ever started a story and got stuck in that first act and couldn’t go on, maybe it’s because you never really understood what happened before the story starts. Knowing where to start can sometimes be confusing. Do we go back to the very beginning or do we jump in with the action. Most times you will start with the action but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what happened to get the characters there. The key word is know. You need the information to put all the pieces together. You don’t necessarily need to share that information with the reader. At least not all of it. The important stuff can trickle in with the telling.

I shared this other little trick in an earlier post but I think it is worth sharing again, in case you missed it the first time. Determine the back story of each of your characters. Go back a month before the story starts with each character individually. What was the character’s goal, motivation, or conflict at that time? What was going on in their life? Determining that information for the secondary characters and antagonist and suspects or victims, depending on the genre of book you are writing can help you develop sub-plots.

I hope the past week has been a productive writing week. I have to admit I spent more time reading than writing. When life throws me a curve it’s easier for me to escape into a book than push myself to write. As some of you know, my brother passed away so I have been dealing with his loss. I also had a medical procedure at the end of the week. Everything turned out fine but these little personal detours seem to wreck havoc on my writing goals. It boots me out of a healthy writing mind set and it takes me a little while to climb back in the saddle and point that pony toward my book’s completion.

No matter what happens though, if I stay away from writing too long, I get that urge that won’t leave me alone until I sit down and put some words together.

If you live in the Des Moines area and are looking for a writing group, Central Iowa Fiction Writers meet the third Saturday of each month at the West Des Moines Community Center in Valley Junction at 10:00 AM.  If you have an interest in mystery writing or reading, Sisters-in-Crime Iowa meets the same day at Smokey Row Coffee Shop at 3:00 PM. Maybe I’ll see you there.

May this be a productive week for all of us. Look forward to seeing some of you Saturday.

P.S. Finished ‘Get Fluffy”. Now I gotta get it autographed.


A is for Alliteration and Antagonist

“Also, avoid all awkward or affected alliteration.” – William Safire, How Not to Write.

I apologize for not posting last week. I forgot and by the time I remembered, it was this week.

I thought it might be fun to use the alpha bet for my posts, kind of like Sue Grafton did with her mystery series. So this week my letter is A. I used the quote on alliteration because I thought it hit home exactly why more isn’t always better.

I didn’t really want to discuss alliteration. The A subject I wanted to talk about is antagonist. How is your antagonist behaving? Is he/she causing enough conflict in your story? I picked up a little trick from one of my writing books recently while working on my own story. It was suggested that to come up with enough disasters in your plot, you should keep track of the things that bring havoc to your own day. List everything, running late, spilling coffee, breaking a leg, getting a flat tire, missing the bus, whatever happens to make life a little more difficult for you. Then take those experiences and pull some out and expand them to a scenario you could use in your story. The final suggestion was to take a character and go back to a month before the story begins and make a list for them at that time of their life to help you build sub-plots. It was suggested you do this with all your major characters, including your antagonist.

That idea came from the book ‘Write Now-Mysteries’ by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson. It has tips from authors that include exercises you can use for your own work.

Another little tip is – The Daily Writing Tips. Google it and then sign up for them to send you daily tips. They are great. I will share some of the lists in future posts.

Just remember this week is A for Antagonist.

Have a good week and get something written.


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