Descriptions are a way to suck your reader into your world. You tell them what’s going on in the world and you do it so well you make it real. In order to make it real, you need to make it feel real. You need to make your reader feel exactly what it is like in that scene.
To do that, you need to make them feel, smell, sound, see, and taste; you need to engage their senses. Sensory details are at the very core of all descriptions and all of them are important.
- Sight – Visual description is the most common form of description, since we take details in primarily through our eyes. I don’t need to impress its importance on you.
- Sound – Behind sight, sound is the other most common sense engaged during description. If we don’t take things in through our eyes, we take them in through our ears. There is a list of words to describe sounds here, here, and here.
- Touch – You can’t always use this sense, because the character isn’t always physically touching something. When they are, though, telling your readers what something feels like can do wonders for your scene. Even when the character isn’t touching something, describing how something feels emotionally or how the character feels about something is very important. There is a list of words to describe how physically touching something feels here, here, and here.
- Smell – I always feel like smell gets short changed in most descriptive passages. Smell is a very powerful sense, especially when it comes to memory. If I smell Wild Berry deodorant, I’m not sitting in front of my computer; I’m in 6th grade science class in the autumn. Scent is also a great way to tell your readers what something is like if your characters can’t see clearly. There is a list of words to describe smells here, here, and here.
- Taste – We naturally associate taste with having something in our mouths, but we can also “taste” things in the air. Most of us know the “taste” of household cleaners, gasoline, cold air, and garbage. There is a list of words to describe tastes here, here, and here.
Adjectives are the describing words that give the reader information about nouns. Nouns tell you what it is and adjectives tell you how it is. Adjectives are your best friends when describing scenes. Most of the links I gave you for the sensory details lead you to lists of adjectives. Here are more adjective lists for your perusal.
Adjectives are fantastic, but remember that adjectives help the noun. They are not the focus of your descriptive sentences. Overuse of adjectives leads to the dreaded purple prose. Likewise, underuse of adjectives leads to beige prose (see below for purple and beige prose). You need to find the happy medium.
You should try to limit yourself to one to three adjectives per sentence. Consider the following sentence:
The cerulean, azure depths of the sparkling sea shimmered with alluring emerald hints.
What I’m trying to say is that the blue sea has green in it. What I’m telling you is a load of mishmash with too many adjectives. It’s too cluttered. Not to mention it contains a bunch unnecessary descriptors. The reader knows that the ocean is primarily blue. They also know it’s sparkling because you mentioned it’s sunny earlier in your description. You don’t need the blue crap or the shimmering crap to create a good description.
The crests of the waves turned green in the sunlight.
There. More specific, less cluttered, and more concise.
You can write descriptions without adjectives, especially by using similes and metaphors (see immediately below).
The woods were a labyrinth.
The leaves burned with autumn colors.
The cactus’ shadow stretched over the old hacienda.
Indeed, I strongly advise you periodically include sentences without adjectives to vary the sentence style in your descriptions.
Generate three random words and try to write a short story using all of them.
This is one I recommend for your bookmarks bar. Great help in a tight spot, or if you feel a need to write something but can’t think of anything to write about.
DISCLAIMER: The site uses Comic Sans. Enemies of the font, beware.
|Could you possibly recommend a few links and articles pertaining to developing a completely original language for a fantasy story. It would be much appreciated!|
People are simply too complicated to really be classified as “good” or “evil”. Intent is everything, and a person can do bad things for the right reasons, or the right things for the wrong reasons, etc. … There are unlimited possibilities for you to play with.
Particularly when role-playing, however, one may need to choose what alignment they are. Evil? Good? Neutral? The last is the norm, and people will lean toward good or bad depending on the situation, their beliefs, and past experiences. Since this plays back and forth throughout their life, chances are, most characters will view themselves as good regardless of their actual leanings. But if you must have a clear definition to separate the good from the bad … selfishness is the most accurate I can think of.
A “villain” will generally be greedy, or mainly concerned with selfish goals. Their own survival and success comes above everything else. Look out for number one. The “hero” on the other hand will be concerned with the welfare of others over themselves. Others come first.
Sometimes, however, one might have a villain who means well, but simply has the wrong idea or makes things worse through ineptitude. On the flip side is the hero who seems good, but does everything “helpful” for selfish reasons or is driven by recognition. Keep in mind that whether the fruits of their labor is good or bad is not automatically determined by their alignment.
Basically… People are complicated and each have their own unique perception of good and evil.
Then of course there is the ever lovable “Anti-Hero”. Not evil and certainly no Dudley Doright either. These sorts of characters have a special place in this writer’s heart. The sort of person who does what they feel like they must, gripes about it, glowers and scowls, and you can’t help but grow really fond of despite it all.
There are endless ways to handle the forces of “good” and “evil” but here are some guidelines to help you round out interesting and enticing goodies and badies.
via between-worlds by Joel Fagin
Showing and telling are two ways of writing. They mean pretty much what they say. Telling the reader is when the narrator or a character in the story will actually state something in order to get it across to the reader. If you show the reader, you demonstrate something through the action.
Here’s a simple example. Telling, first.
Greg was furious.
Hm. Now for showing…
Greg swept the contents of the desk to the floor in one violent movement.
In both cases, we know Greg is very angry indeed but the second is far better. It’s cinematic - it creates a powerful scene in the reader’s head - and is more emotionally engaging. The first example let us know Greg was angry. The second let us feel it.
And showing is generally better than telling although telling has its place and can never be - nor should be - entirely avoided. They’re also quite happy being used together. We could always have…
Greg was furious. He swept the contents of the desk to the floor in one violent movement.
That may seem redundant but it works fine and even brings a slightly different feel to the event. The showing underlines the telling, making the anger seem stronger.
One of the key elements of character development is the ability to see through your character’s eyes. Get a good look at how they see the world, what they perceive as good or bad and WHY they perceive it as good or bad.
You need to think about where that person came from. What their childhood was like, their parents, peers, interests… if your character is an evil wizard, why did he choose to become an evil wizard? Did he choose it? What was he like as a child? What was life like growing up? What kind of environment is he used to? Asking yourself questions like these is imperative to the development of your character, even if the readers never see that part of it. The important thing is that you know.
The “why” of things is very important. Motive is for more than just detective stories. It is a vital part of ALL storytelling. There must be a motive, and it needs to makes sense. A good character is one that feels as real as a personal friend or enemy. Realism, no matter what genre you’re writing, helps bring that person to life.
We want to make our creations leap off the page and into the third dimension. To do that, we need to make clear WHY they do what they do and feel how they feel. To just say, “Well, he’s just nuts, that’s why,” is a cop out. He might be insane, sure, but how so? How long has he been insane? Was he born that way? If your character has a mental illness do research and define it. Be specific. Even if you don’t reveal to the readers just what exactly is wrong with them, the fact that you know will make it that much more believable. Readers/fellow roleplayers can sense when there’s something going on they aren’t privy to and it keeps them coming back for more.
Here are some ideas of basic questions to ask your character to get a feel for his/her/its history.
- What was your childhood like? Who were your parents? Did you know them? How do you feel about them? How do your parents feel about you? If your parents didn’t raise you who did and why? Did you have a lot of friends growing up? What memories stand out? What impact did your childhood have on who you are now? Do you have siblings? How big is your family? How close are they? Do they keep in touch?
- Where are you from? What culture did you grow up with? What culture do you feel closest to? What traditions do you believe in? What weather are you used to? How are you used to interacting with people? Are you used to people who are different from yourself? What kinds of foods are you used to? What are you willing to try? Do you believe in gender roles or certain types of moral behavior? How do you feel about Politics? Religion? What do you base this on? How many places have you lived? How has this impacted you? Is there somewhere that stands out as home?
- How do you earn a living? Is this the career you always wanted? Did you dream of something else when you were young? Did you do something else before? How long have you had this job/career/trade? What do you like about it? What do you hate about it? What exactly does it involve? Ideally, what do you want? Is money or the job more important? Have you had to sacrifice money for job satisfaction or vice versa? Did you have to work hard to get to your skill level, or did you go with her natural strengths or both?
- Who was your first love? Did you even have a first love? What is your perception of romance? Is that what you want? Why did or didn’t it work out? What happened? Have you fallen in love since? Have you tried to avoid it? Are you searching for a soul mate? Do you care? Why? Do you have children? That you know of?
If you have a culture in mind already that has a basis in reality or an established fantasy world, look into those cultures, read as much as you can about them and see what strikes you as true to that character or different about that character from the norm. The same goes for worlds and cultures of your own creation. Figure out as much as you can about the world, then how your character fits (or doesn’t fit) in.
Challenge yourself. Work with creations that are very different from yourself. They need to be their own person. A story full of characters that are just like you loses it’s credibility. Each character should be their own unique person with personalities all their own.
Especially with characters you strongly disagree with or have a very different perception of reality than, you need to be able to argue their side of it to be able to write for them in a believable way. When you can understand how they feel and what they think, they will become more realistic when they interact with other characters. This doesn’t mean you have to change your mind and agree with them. All it means is that you are able to see where they are coming from and how this influences their behavior.
Learning these skills can even be useful in your real everyday life. The practice of using a combination of imagination and knowledge to better understand the “why” of what people do is a huge step towards compassion. When you understand things from the point of view of someone you don’t even like, never mind agree with, it makes it harder to foster hate. Putting oneself in the shoes of someone they’ve long thought to hate, and seeing them as another rounded human being, can do wonders for the spirit and for a person’s happiness.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being realistic, even/especially in fiction. A writer can never be too informed. Remember, Knowledge is Power.
You’ve probably also heard the saying “write what you know”. Now, to the science fiction or fantasy writer this phrase may seem worthless. Write what I know? How can I possibly learn all about or experience things that don’t exist? Even fantasy can be built upon a realistic foundation, and there are endless resources to build that foundation with.
Reading what other people have written to get a feel for a genre is always helpful, and discussing things with friends never hurts either. Is your character a master of disguise? Pick up a book, learn how it works. Are they a thief? What are some tricks thieves use? How does one pick a lock? What’s involved? Are they a knight in shining armor? Just how easy is it to move around in a suit of armor? How about lifting those huge swords? Can they get on a horse without help? PBS has some great programs just full of information, as does the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Your local library is invaluable, and of course endless information is just a Google away.
Pay close attention to animal anatomy for more fantastic creatures. Naturally you have to fudge things to some extent sometimes for creatures that really don’t exist, but it’s educated fudging. This makes it more realistic, even though it isn’t real. For example, one of my RP characters was a winged centaur (or rather a relative being half elk instead of horse). While he turned out to be an absolutely beautiful and amusing fellow, he was also over 8’ tall at his head and weighed over 500 lb. Pretty as those feathered wings were, there was no way he was lifting himself off the ground, they weren’t big enough. He could leap and glide a short distance, but if the party had to climb a rope or cliff he was utterly useless - which was great fun to play out. Limiting characters makes them more of a challenge, the more they struggle the more they grow and the more fun they are, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Physiology, psychology, weaponry, philosophy… The world is at your fingertips. All you have to do is look and/or ask. Having easily accessible reference is important for any writer and/or artist, and having books on hand is the most convenient method for any creative person. It’s much easier to have information on hand than to remember it. I personally hate having to return Library books, because as soon as I do I need it again. I have shelves of reference that I am eternally thankful for and keep returning to again and again. Especially since, while the internet is a valueable tool when it works, a useful website may be there one day and gone the next.
Ask questions and look into all the available sources to find the answers. Sometimes, you’ll find answers to things you hadn’t even thought of, and often your research will end up inspiring you! There’s many writer’s guides available, based on research other authors have done to help folks out. The more you know, the more realistic your story and more involved your audience will feel.
This works for Art as well. Pay attention to the world around you, notice how things work and look. It’s important for a character, picture, place, world, to feel somehow natural regardless of the style. Create a “morgue” (yes, that’s the actual term) by cutting out magazine pictures that remind you of characters, landscapes, items, or have positions you find difficult to draw and keep them in a handy binder.
Sometimes you won’t be able to find the answer you’re looking for. Make a decision based off of what you do know. Go with your gut and what feels right to you. It is *your* character, and in the end only you and they will know what’s best.
Here’s all of the days of the challenge:
I HATE BOOKS that introduce an obvious hetero love interest in the first two chapters. (non-hetero plot lines are so rare, I give them more leniency because if I toss all the ones that were obvious I’d end up with, like, 4 books)
By “obvious” I mean
a) leeeeeenghty obnoxious descriptions of physical appearance, sexy accent, smile, voice, mannerisms, etc. (if the other characters are given a one-sentence-or-less description and THIS character is given 900000 sentences…. I’m done)
b) an opposite-gendered character who is just SOOOOO DIFFERENT from everyone else the character knows. Examples include - they don’t follow society’s rules! they SEE the protagonist in a special way! they treat someone with kindness! they’re some kind of revolutionary! (this is especially true in dystopian, fantasy, and sci-fi)
c) the protagonist “can’t explain” all the weeeeeird things their body is doing around this new person. (omg my heart is pounding and my palms are clammy and I keep babbling WHAT IS HAPPENING AM I DYING!?!? THIS IS JUST SOOOOO STRANGE)
d) (in the worst books) only one opposite-gender character in the beginning chapters even has a name, personality, or real purpose in the story
ANOTHER PET PEEVE (along the same vein) is any book that has this on the back:
[Girl] is [average/super great at everything/a loser] until the day that [adventure strikes!] Suddenly she [is responsible for everything/loses everything/has to figure out a mystery]. But when she meets [sexy/mysterious/dangerous/adjectives] [Guy]…
a) they must team up together for the good of humanity!
b) she must choose between him and the good of humanity!
c) they must fuck each other immediately for the good of humanity!
d) she must spend the majority of the book fussing over the love triangle between him, herself, and [Guy #2], who is also [sexy/mysterious/dangerous/adjectives], instead of fussing over the good of humanity! like she’s supposed to be.
Rarely do these books amount to anything you feel good about reading, unless you’re very lonely and just need dramatic love stories to masturbate to (not judging - we’ve all been there).
“Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.
1. FINISH IT
Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.
Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.
3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY
This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’
4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE
Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.
5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE
Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.
When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.
7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD
You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.
8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE
Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’
9. DON’T LISTEN
Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.
10. DON’T SELL OUT
The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.”
(original article: http://www.whedon.info/Joss-Whedon-s-Top-10-Writing-Tips.html)