1. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    Unique or conventional description?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BillyxRansom, Aug 18, 2009.

    Do you think most authors tend to keep to a strict conventional form in terms of describing every day (or even mundane) aspects of life in general? Are there boundaries that most authors adhere to?

    Or do you think they just write based on instinct and a lot of it happens to be quite familiar to the reader just because, there simply is no way to be any "more obscure" with that particular piece of description?

    Is the description of a certain item something that YOU as the READER just recognize when you read it no matter how it is described (as long as the description makes sense) or do you rely on the conventional understanding of a noun, or even verb?

    For me, it has to be painfully obvious or conventional, or I'll be a bit lost. I think my problem is that I just have to let go of the idea that, conventional methods of descriptive writing and action writing are "THE way" to get your point across. Maybe step outside the box a bit more, shed my zone of comfort. And that's just for the reading aspect of storytelling.

    I probably should hone my skills as a READER before I can really hope to be a better WRITER.

    Thoughts?

    -Billy

    p.s. I sat here for several minutes wording and re-wording this, so I hope NOW it makes sense. If not I can always clarify. Not a big deal.


    p.p.s. I know some of you have probably seen me post questions about description SEVERAL times, and I am sure it's probably annoying. But this seems to be the single most unsure aspect of the writing process for me. :confused:
     
  2. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Are you asking about things like, washing the dishes, going to work, mowing the lawn, every day ins and outs of living as a human...and how to describe them?

    Frankly, I avoid mundane, boring, life stuff. This is why we don't read too much, or see in movies, characters using the bathroom. Every now and then you'll get a bathroom scene, but normally something is happening in the scene, on the phone, making out, having the runs is part of the plot (American Pie).

    Most writers skip over the humdrum of every day life. Only time we see character's doing every day kinds of things is when it is secondary to the story being told. Maybe a woman is sloshing her hands in a sink full of dirty dishes while she plots how to kill her husband. Maybe the man driving to work through the quiet murmur of traffic is not paying attention to where he is going, because he's on a conference call to Japan and is about to lose an important client.

    The mundane part of life falls second place to what's going on in the story. To ground the reader into the setting we put characters in situations they recognize, every day things, and we have extraordinary things happening to keep the reader interested and to move the story along.

    As for coming up with more colorful ways of expressing the mundane to make it interesting...well that's something every writer has to figure out to do...part of the craft...and part of your own writers voice.
     
  3. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    I bolded the part I did because it's what I am referring to. They are mundane things, yes, but they ARE indeed necessary for that part of the plot. But they're still mundane. I find myself getting tripped up over these mundane items, yet I feel like I'm going to be missing something, somehow, if I don't get a full grasp on every word written.

    So I suppose you just have to have an understanding of certain things, in order to grasp the scene fully... What if you don't, where do you turn?
     
  4. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I am sorry to say, but your a tad bit confusing, is English your second language? (Not being snarky, seriously asking)

    I can only tell you how I do it. I've never really read rules on how to write mundane events in your characters life. Personally, when I write about a character doing something mundane, I have to have a reason for the scene to be in there.

    So let me take the woman doing dishes as an example.

    Now if doing the dishes was an important plot point, like it's showing her typical daily routine of childraising, cooking and cleaning. I would have to have something other than her washing dishes, otherwise I'm bound to lose the reader to The Late Show, because no one wants to read about my characters boring life.

    But, if I take her and jump in her head: (Now please, not looking to have this critiqued, it's a "from the seat of my pants example.")

    I can't believe he's out again with his beer buddies. I plunge my hands into the steaming water and enjoy the burn. He's such a piece of work. I know he's meeting up with her again. Scrubbing, this sauce really doesn't want to come out of the pot. I'd like to scrub his head with a brillo pad. Drown him in this sink. No good, two timing, piece of crap. I was gritting my teeth so hard a headache was forming in my temples. "AAHHHHH." I scream, hurling the pot across the room. The vase on the counter goes flying. Smash. The pot tumbles to the carpeted floor on the other side and rolls towards the dining room.


    Long example I know. But I just want to show how I do it. Granted don't judge this as my best work here, it's just a slap together. I use the every day event that this woman is doing, something she does almost on auto pilot, and give the reader the glance inside her spiraling thought process.

    It part of character development and story telling. I guess it really matters as to the context in which you are using the mundane as your backdrop, or as your plot point.

    Backdrop should be subdued, not as noticeable. Plot points should be descriptive, in whatever style is your own.
     
  5. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    Wow... Can't say I've ever gotten this one. No it's my first language. :| I'm just TERRIBLE at trying to explain what I'm going through, without being long-winded, or just... EXTREMELY confusing.

    Of course. Everything should have a reason for being in the novel. Otherwise, it would be the editor's job to take it out. :)

    Backdrop should be subdued, yet I find myself endlessly mulling over the details that I can't visualize in my head (when reading), as minute or as minor as they may be. And therefore, that makes it harder to WRITE it, and that stops me up. It's like even though it's not some important element to the scene itself, I interpret the fact that it was written, to be KEY in creating a competently written scene.
     
  6. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Just don't do what Meyer's did in Twilight. Who in the hell wants to read a few pages of her boring conversation with Dad while she cooks enchiladas?

    You want there to be conflict in every scene, even the mundane. That conflict can be internal, like the example that was given above, or external. Or there needs to be some sort of tension.

    For example: Mary wants to get to work on time or she might get fired. Then an old friend shows up at her house, who she hasn't seen in years. The scene is her quickly getting ready. She thinks back to her boss that said she better not be late again or else. She doesn't have the time to do everything she wants to, so she cuts corners, decided not to eat, etc. She opened the front door, and, boom, there is her friend.

    The mundane made tense.
     
  7. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Nice post, Bluebell. I wasn't entirely sure about the question, but I was inclined to say the same.

    Mundane events can add subtext. Sometimes there is a great deal of meaning in these trivial things; they send an important message. Maybe a guy is buffing his car while chatting with a neighbor. . She tells him something he doesn't want to hear, but the only sign of irritation he gives is to buff the car more aggressively. Or maybe he slows down. . to show that he's thinking.

    Other times it's just a part of realistic dialogue. Let's say Mom is a homemaker. So some of the important conversations take place in the kitchen, and you describe mundane stuff (in brief detail) for two reasons. 1.) You want to demonstrate her personality and fuction in the home. 2.) The actions serve as "beats" to indicate who is speaking. It helps to cut down on all the "he said, she said," and to break up otherwise endless speech.

    Inserting an action gives the reader a moment to digest the conversation. It's also a distraction, which can be good when used properly. If you briefly distract readers, they'll be more interested in reading the rest. It's a kind of subtle "withholding". People want want they don't or can't have. If you give everything up too freely, they may get bored.

    The same idea can be applied to events when the story slows down a bit. It's always a question of balance. You need more to your story than guns and fireworks, and you don't want to write a whole chapter of pointless drivel. It needs to be somewhere in the middle, and the mundane stuff needs to have a point of some kind. The reason can be extremely variable, though, and maybe that's what the OP was confused about.
     
  8. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    Like I said, I often tend to get a little confusing and wordy with certain things that I am having trouble with.

    Sounds like subtlety is quite an effective trick. This seems like something that is often lost on me, as well.

    Interesting. Seems so obvious, too.

    I thought so. So subtlety it is. I think I might actually be trying to force it a lot of times. I never even thought of that before. Wow.

    I think it may be possible that I just realized that there WERE soooo many options, that it overwhelmed me. Does that even make sense? Can that happen?
     
  9. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I disagree wholeheartedly.

    A conversation while someone cooks enchiladas sounds like a very blissful reading experience, especially if you enjoy the way the characters interact, or simply like reading about the characters themselves, regardless of what they are doing.



    Edit: To the original poster: Are you saying that life is so full of mundane things - hundreds of them, every day - that you are unsure when to write about them, and when not to?

    I know that in my story I often find myself wondering if I should have him doing something simple, like paying bills or mowing his enormous lawn or something, because I never bring them up.
    Furthermore, what about all of the thoughts a person thinks? Books tend to have characters introspect a lot, which is boring, but somehow seems necessary.
     
  10. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I think that's the problem--Bella wasn't interesting, except to teenage girls who could relate to her. Arch isn't a teenage girl. (or is he? internet. .);)

    As always, target market is something to consider.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    And I disagree with your disagreement. :)

    Every scene should serve to advance plot or character. Now, if the scene displays tension or other relationship aspects between characters, that's a different platter of burritos. A seemingly airy conversation can reflect boiling thunderheads of an approaching storm. But a cheerful domestic scene without the writer having an agenda is usually a mistake. Filler is a mistake.

    That doesn't mean the scene can't be dressed as a respite from strife. It only means that the scene should have more to it than everyday routine. Instead, select a day in which the routine is interrupted, or in which something else is taking place within the scene.
     
  12. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    To expand on what I said before, there is the rare time when I'm so intrigued by a character, I'm happy to read anything involving him. However, it would be wise to assume your characters are never as interesting as you like to think. We should strive to make every page a pleasure to read, and not depend on characters we are enamoured of to carry the story.

    This is the main problem I had with The Wheel of Time, especially toward the end. I was starting to dislike Perrin in the third book. Later on, I hated him. Absolutely loathed him. I wanted to see him die--painfully. It wasn't because of his flaws or personality. It was Jordan's incessant nattering about all things trivial and pointless.

    By the time I finished book 11, I realised that I didn't like any of the characters. But it would be wrong to say they all annoyed me. The writing was infuriating--that's all.

    A great story is ruined almost completely when a lengthy chapter consists of little more than a guy sitting on his horse, thinking about nothing interesting, and observing the weather.

    Sometimes it is a question of demographics, or catering to a specific group. Sometimes the details that seem trivial to you are important to someone else. That's why you really need to know your readers.

    When RJ first started, most people loved the depth of his writing, the vivid imagery and thorough descriptions. At least, his fans did--his target market. We gobbled it up and begged for more. Unfortunately, instead of producing more of what we loved, he increased the detail in each installment, until the tenth, Crossroads of Twilight, received almost unanimous negative reviews, even from his most loyal followers.

    Know your readers!
     

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