Friday, January 27, 2012

Description or Distraction?

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the book she was reading. Did she like it? Was it a keeper? To which she replied with a “meh” face and shook her head.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, surprised. The book in question shall remain nameless, but suffice it to say it was by a well-known author of popular main-stream fiction, and I had assumed she would enjoy it.

“Not really exciting,” she said. “I keep skipping through it.”

“Really?” I asked. “Why?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. There’s too much description. It just seems to get bogged down. I mean, do I really care what color someone’s pants are or what kind of shirt they’re wearing? What’s the point in that kind of detail?”

What’s the point, indeed.

The problem I think my friend had with the book she was reading, was not with the descriptions the author had written, but their relevance. It’s easy to write on auto-pilot. To think, “inset description here” and add in a few details to describe a room in order to flesh out a scene. What takes a bit more effort, though, is making the description relevant to the point of view of whichever character happens to be hosting the scene, and relevant to the story as a whole.

Take my living room for example. It’s undoubtedly a mess to my eyes. I see the dirt on the carpet that needs vacuuming, the dust that needs Swiffering away, the toys left in a pile on the floor, ready to trip the unwary. So what do you know about me from those few details I have described? I have kids, and my living room needs cleaning. Going a bit deeper, you could wonder if maybe I’m a clean-freak who obsesses about every piece of dirt. Or maybe I’m just too busy to pick up and clean up, and could really use a helpful maid. (Really. I need a maid.) Either way, the point is, description does more than add details to a scene, it builds character.

Someone else would see the same room quite differently than I, of course. Point of view is so important; it really changes everything that is "seen" in a story. A bookworm might ignore the dust and toys in favour of the very large bookcase stacked full of rare books that takes up most of a wall. A kid would see little else except the toys on the floor and the fun they embody. What types of books and kinds of toys those might be, would depend on the scene being written and how it relates to the overall story. Because description does more than build character, it builds a story. And every detail counts.

Every. Detail.

If a detail doesn’t count, then why is it there? Why describe the carpet as chocolate-colored, or plush, or wool, unless it means something to the character "seeing" it and engages the reader to keep reading instead of putting the book down. Description should never serve as a distraction; it should bolster good dialogue and add depth to a scene. It should never be some sort of fluffed-up filler that bridges one line of dialogue to the next. Because, as my friend pointed out, it’s very easy for a reader to become bored and skim through chapters if the description is just not appropriate.

Have you ever read a book where the description in a scene popped you right out of the story? Did you put the book down or give it a second chance?

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Great Corset Debate

Underwear has always shaped us, in our bodies and our ways of thinking. I read a good article this morning all about corsets, the beginnings of their design and evolution to near extinction with the switch to bras. You can find it here:

The idea under attack in the article is the truth about the long-standing belief women cinched their waists to as small 13 inches. The author claims such reports as false, citing a lack of documented evidence to verify the truth of the matter. But here's my thinking: corsets were designed to be sexy, to make a woman's figure as sleek in the tummy as possible while pushing up the breasts into eye-catching proportion. And just like today where we tend to idolize the svelte figures on fashion magazines, striving to become as sleek and supposedly-sexy as possible through diet, exercise, and when that doesn't cut it, using a knife to reshape our natural form, you can bet your sweet heiney that women-of-the-past, wielded whatever weapons they had at hand to make themselves look socially beautiful.

There was more at stake back then. Today's modern woman can, if she chooses, say, "this is horse sh*t" to what is fashionable and wear a potato sack if she likes, because we've have employment with decent wages, we have independence, we don't need to catch a husband to survive. But back in the Victorian era and before, we did. We needed to do whatever it took to get ourselves married to a man who could support us and our children, and if it meant cinching a corset to the smallest waist possible, despite the indigestion, pain, and other health-problems which squashing internal organs would cause, then so be it. Women would, and did, and still do whatever it takes to make themselves more eye-catching than the next rival. Just ask your local plastic surgeon how much he makes a year.

But I don't think it's ever been just about rivalry and fashion. Social customs aside, corsets are undeniably sexy. So sexy women dare to wear them on the outside of clothes these days, to show just what they can do for their figure. Like a good pair of high heels, wearing a corset feels sexy. I'm sure there were Victorian women who enjoyed the feeling of a tightly bound waist, who didn't feel "dressed" until they had their corset in place, who enjoyed the sensation of being undressed, layer by layer, lace by lace, when their husband was inclined. Isn't that the ultimate draw of historical romance novels, the slow building anticipation which happens only in the undressing of a corsetted woman by her lover?

I look at my own waist and think, "13 inches....erm, not even close" and I don't really feel a strong desire to find a corset made out of adamantium steel in order to get it that way. But how about you? What do you think of corsets?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chrono what?'s Friday the 13th, and January of the year the Mayans said the world will end. What better day to start blogging!
'Cause who knows how much time we really have. Which makes me think this post is actually about time and timing and all those watch-related things.

I've come to the realization I'm chronometrically challenged. For instance, I've had this blogger blog space thingy for the past, um, two, or is three, years but never used it. Not even once. I've checked out other peoples blogs for sure, posted comments, written lots of other comments blogger refused to post (grrrrr), but avoided actually writing my own blog or even looking at it because...I just wasn't ready. That's what I told myself. "I'm not ready." I've been "not ready" for many things for a long time. Like finishing my stories. Lots of starts there, lots of words written, lots more words not written though, because, "I'm not ready."

Problem with being an eternal coffee pot, percolating away, but never getting brewed, is that time still passes by, and the coffee gets stale and if left on the heat long enough, burned. Then you have to throw it out and start a fresh pot. What a waste.

What a waste of time if I don't use the precious moments I have each day to finish those stories and blog about my journey as a writer every once in a while. I'm actually excited about this year. I'm sure it will be filled with all sorts of interesting things, good and bad. But for the first time in a very long time, I feel "I'm ready." What that means, I'm not quite sure, except...'s Friday the 13th, and January of the year the Mayans said the world will end.

And for me, it's a new beginning.