I started another writing class this month, Fiction 2 with Gotham Writers Workshop.  This experience is different than the one I had last semester.  Last semester my teacher was a woman, older than me and a novelist/screenwriter.  This session, my teacher is male, younger than me (I believe he’s 12) and a short story writer.  The biggest difference is not the gender or the age:  it is the writing discipline.  Writing a short story versus a novel is the same, yet different.

Many of my classmates favor very ambiguous stories.  They’re OK with limited, or no plot.  They’re OK with vague descriptions.  They’re OK with no dialogue.  These are things the novel people never want to read/see.  The biggest criticism I get when presenting my novel is the lack of description- I am dialogue heavy, and personally, I don’t care if the kitchen is all black and modern, or yellow and countryesque.  But, readers of novels do.  Readers of short stories don’t.

Should I become a short story writer?

No.  I want to write a longer work.

So we have the first conundrum I face when working on my novel: how do I add description to my work?

Seriously. how do I add description to my work?

My problem appears to be in my first chapter.  OK- I have problems in other chapters as well, but lets begin with the section I’m currently playing with.  I need to introduce my setting, which is a kitchen, and my protagonist and her three best friends.  (on a completely different note- I did learn in this current class that the protagonist and main character do not have to be the same- who knew???)  This is a lot of information in the beginning of the book, and I am having difficulty maintaining my light, fun voice with the task of similes, metaphors, adverbs and adjectives.  I like description to appear in little bits and pieces.  People reading my book do not.  They want a laundry list of how the room looks.  How do I reconcile what the reader wants with how I want to present the story?

Is this the first basic problem with writing?  Writing what you want versus writing what people want to read?  Is this just a variation of chicken/egg?

So, I’ve added a prologue.  I am introducing my protagonist separately.  I’m laying out one of the “problems” before I even get to anything else.  I’m establishing the tone and voice.   I think I’m liking this better, but it is my first rewrite, so….

Which leads me to the following:  my first draft is finished.

Yay.

Sort of.

To explain, I have the first half of the novel fleshed out.  The second half is just major arcs.  I have to fill in the filler.  Here’s the thing I realized- I want the filler to actually count, so I need to flesh out the filler better in the first half, so that it is more meaningful in the second half.  What, you say.  I didn’t understand this last sentence, how am I going to understand her novel?  I wish I could explain my thought process a little better, but really, how much do you want to get into my brain?

But, I am pleased with the main points of the novel.  I like my two characters- they are funny and smart and damaged, just like we all are.  I only hope that these things are coming across on the page.  I am enjoying the process though.  I look forward to writing.  That is huge for me, the fact that I look forward to writing.   I even think about plot points and dialogue when I am doing other things- my little pink notebook is never far from my side.

In other writing news.  I blogged at least 5 times a week this month.  Yay.  Had so much amazing feedback from comments and generated lots of new blog ideas.  Thank you all for that- you keep me on my toes and keep me thinking.  You are all an inspiration.  My hope is that every now and then I inspire you.

I formed a writing group with two of the women from my first fiction class.  This is the best thing I did.  We meet every three weeks and really do a line by line critique of each others work.  Even if I don’t like their suggestions, it’s making me look at my novel in a different way.  I’m thinking of the overall theme more, because I see how individual word choice effects the general feel of a work.

My next task is to try to find an agent.  Yeah.  Good times.  I don’t know how to even start this process, but my February goal is to start researching the “how”.  You’ll get the report next month.

So there you have it: a summary of my writing for January.  Tune in next month for the latest tale of my writing highs and lows.

Happy writing!!!

 

 

 

 

71 thoughts on “January Writing Update

  1. Same troubles here 🙂 I’m bad with a description so it’s always a minimum on my post or short story but I think a lot of ppl like it and hey, we could invent a totally new genre of short story 🙂
    Anyway just wanted to say – it will never stop me, knowing that I can’t describe a sh@t 😂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. A writer should always love his story. There’re different kinds of writers of coz and maybe my skills r better for screen plays :/ eh my stories r so weird too but in any case I think they r fun to read. Btw the genre is important- I mean to find ur own niche

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve just started being in a writing group after avoiding it for years. And I really like it and appreciate the feedback. It surprised me how helpful it was. About description – I’m big on description but very selective about it. I don’t describe everything – just the pieces of the environment that the character is holding or leaning against or wishing to paint over. I agree with you that long descriptions are tedious. I’m not buying a house, I’m reading something for the plot or its meaning. Sounds like you have amazing discipline about your writing life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for feedback re description. I know I don’t live to read long descriptions…they bore me. I like adding them in when they add to the character or scene, otherwise they’re random words. I’m only disciplined cause I told myself this is the year to write the book and try!! But thanks!!

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  3. I am not a fan of prologues. I don’t know why this is. Some of them I find detract from the story as some of them introduce an ending, or an insight that doesn’t appear particularly pertinent to the story… I’m not sure why I feel this way. I want to pick up a fiction book and jump into the story.

    Maybe I’m missing something? Certainly stumbling onto info in blogs like this certainly helps my own perspective on writing! (I’m a memoir writer, but in the third person…do you get what I’m saying? It’s…different).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The whole thing is such an adventure. It’s all about figuring out how to tell the story you want. I realized that I need to be more open minded about the nuts and bolts, and I’m experimenting a little more. It’s ok to rewrite something….which was hard for me to grasp at the beginning

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  4. I think that what’s important is that you’re 100% pleased with your work. Don’t write to please others. Sure add a little description here and there maybe, just to set the scene, but don’t over do it if that’s not your writing style. There is definitely a niche of readers out there who aren’t into knowing about how the inside of a house looks or an author going into great detail about a character’s hair colour. 🙈 xx

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  5. Don’t force yourself to write description. If you don’t like it, it won’t like you back. Not every reader of novels wants a ton of description. I know I don’t. And I’m happy with getting the description as dialog. Or internal dialog. You know, still moving the story along. Character A yells at character B, “Why are we still just sitting here in my filthy kitchen when we should be out in that dazzling sunshine?” etc.

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  6. I guess I am one of those people who like description. I try to put myself in the location and see as well as feel it and if you are describing from different characters points of view then they will each see and feel something different. If the description is imperative to the story line then spend some time on it, otherwise just make it part of the conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there are different sorts of stories, and there are some where description is imperative. My story is very friendship oriented, and I’m having trouble making the description organic.

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  7. I’m reading this and I’m silently yelling at the screen (my five-year old is sleeping, so I can’t really yell). Don’t add a laundry list of description because a few readers told you you should. No. So the chapter takes place in a kitchen. You are correct in that you don’t need to go into intense detail about what the kitchen looks like. Dialogue does wonders. Why not have a character say, “Sally, I still can’t get over how much I love your kitchen. It’s so chic and modern. I feel like the Kardashians should be in here arguing over who has more Instagram followers.” Boom. A gazillion people watch that ridiculous show, but now your reader knows the kitchen is modern, sleek, expensive, shiny, with an island for sure, and whatever else the Kardashians have in their kitchen. Do you see what I mean? Personally I can’t stand lengthy descriptions. YAWN. Tight, concise, to the point, but not boring. You should read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. Wowza. I enjoy writing short stories because of the tight frame, but my novel-in-progress is alive with goings-on because of dialogue (and it’s first person, which is fun to play with). Do for YOU, 50. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ultimately you are correct. But, I think first she should enjoy the class and and try out what her instructors are telling her to do. Use everything as a learning experience. I think when you explore various types of writing styles and try them all out, you tend to pick and choose what works best with your own style. BUT, learning them is still key.
      ” SHOW don’t tell” is what we teachers always say. Don’t say a character is angry, show it by describing his body language or how he gripped your hand so tightly it left marks. Those details aren’t boring. If you describe every tea cup in the kitchen you’ll put the reader to sleep. However, if you mention ever so tactfully during dialogue, how a character … perhaps after gulping down a a freshly brewed cup of strong coffee, put down her grandmother’s china cup – you can show her mood as being upset by the sound it made as it hit the saucer. (Or even broke it if the character is really unnerved or upset.) THAT is the kind of detail I think the instructors are looking for. Also, it tells a lot about a character if their kitchen is modern and sleek or cozy and cluttered. So those details ARE important. If your main character is a librarian who is forgetful and her glasses are always on her head, then chances are her kitchen will be in disarray. If the character is an impersonal business man who always wears a suit and tie and is not particularly friendly, he is more likely to have a stream lined modern kitchen…. Just saying. The environment of a character’s home SHOWS the reader who the protagonist is. Readers need a glimpse into the character’s surrounding to comprehend what is going on in their mind.
      Sorry….. the teacher in me just can’t help lecturing… so sorry…. argh!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The instructor is not really the one telling me I need more description….it’s my other classmates. My first teacher liked my voice and story and character. My second teacher hasn’t read an excerpt of my book yet, just my homework assignments which are fairly non descriptive. My work is being showcased in class on the 20th so I’ll have his feedback then.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks. Yup. I hate things that read “her large inviting Kitchen was sprawled about the back of her ranch style home. The appliances were stainless and highly polished, the exterior looking as if they’d never been used…” personally, I’m looking for the conversation. I like interaction between characters. To me, that tells the story. Too much description is hgtv, which I love, but……

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You can add it in a subtle way in the middle of the dialogue and give the same details. Think of it as if it were a movie. What would the you see while the characters are speaking? Write it that way. That’s why I mentioned the delicate cup rather than a mug. Shattering a valued heirloom in the kitchen rather than a ceramic mug gives an entirely different affect and explains more about the character than going into a Tolstoy version of the heroine’s china cabinet. In fact it would be a fun exercise to write a section both ways to see the difference.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. How about adding descriptions of the setting by having the characters doing something in the kitchen, whether washing up, cooking, drinking a glass of water etc. People rarely sit around doing nothing. A few descriptions of the room and the action taking part should be enough for the reader to know they are in the kitchen. Personally I find long winded descriptive writing slightly boring and will often skip over it. Happy writing

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t like long winded description either. My characters are lifelong friends sitting at a kitchen table eating a pie and talking. How much do you need to know th3 color of the plates? Which someone asked me. I don’t think that adds to the story

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  9. Since I taught writing for over 30 years perhaps these techniques can be helpful. A great way to allow yourself to visualize when writing, is to use sensory improvisational techniques. I used to do sensory exercises with my students that are actually method acting techniques. Example: I’d bring in to class ice cream and toppings so they could make a mini ice-cream sundae. Before the exercise I told them to really think about the entire experience. (Take in everything they saw, heard, smelled, touched, tasted) and after they each made their sundae with toppings and ate their product I had them write a mini story using VIVID details that explained their experience, starting from the moment they saw everything in the room starting with the door opening, the toppings, every flavor of ice cream, and recount in sequence what happened. Describe the sensations as the cold hit their tongues, the creamy texture melting in their mouths and how it slithered down their throats. The textures of every topping.
    In the mean time I had music playing in the background. They needed to describe the music, any scents that filled the room, the temperature in the air… did the cold hit their face when they entered the classroom?
    EVERY writing experience needs to be a full sensory experience. My suggestion is to think about your scenery. Describe the day if you are outside…. the darkening sky, the color of the clouds, wet rain hitting your face, the sound of your shoes on the pavement. USE ALL the sensory elements to every day things you don’t often think about.
    ANOTHER exercise. Take your family out to dinner and order a pizza. Look around the restaurant and describe your environment. Also, jot down the physical characteristics of the people in the room, the sounds you hear. ( various pitch of voices, clanking of dishes) smells coming from the kitchen. The gooey cheese as it stretches or hangs from a spoon… or from the heavy set man sitting at the table next to you using a deep bellowing voice as the cheese gets stuck in his mustache…. whatever you see.

    Pretend you are a fly on the wall and OBSERVE every little detail and jot it down. THEN write down everything you saw and put it into your narrative. You can delete anything superfluous after you have written it. *But the reader is then brought into the world you have created by using sensory images. It comes to life.
    I taught narrative and expository writing for decades and my students’ scores were consistently the highest or second highest in the state. I gave workshops for the county. I basically used method acting skills. Actors create three dimensional characters that think and feel and create subtext. They turn sensory moments into real believable images. Those same sensory elements make your writing realistic.

    **** Readers should feel like they are sitting in the middle of a movie watching the action all around them. Your words are so alive that everything around them is filled with sensory experiences. The reader has to smell the musty, dank dark basement, or the cold crisp air. They need to hear every sound or the silence has to be deafening. ALSO: read your writing aloud after you have written it. Remember verbs move the action forward but sensory images help readers see what you are writing. I hope this helps.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Great. I think they may help. Try them for the class and see if you like that way of working. In the end you will have to go with your gut and write how you write. But, you may just learn to expand your current ability and add a little detail to it give your work a little something extra.

        I’m on the 12th chapter of writing a paranormal detective mystery and I am suddenly at a standstill. I think I have backed myself into a corner. Now to get myself out of it. Oh boy!!!! Good luck and Happy Writing! xo

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Since you already got all the advice you could EVER need, lol, I’m only going to give you a reference to get published: Authors Publish is a wonderful source to subscribe to and has many eBooks on how to get published. Also check out Freedom With Writing, and Submittable.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I’m very happy to hear January was a good writing month for you on the whole! Hopefully things will get straightened out in this new group. I’m on the fence about descriptions all in one go. Paragraphs and paragraphs of descriptions can be tedious!! Just find a happy medium that works best FOR YOU! (Or don’t, that always works too! Haha) All the best, Kelsey 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yeah….I don’t think I’m ever going to be an overly descriptive writer….to me, it weighs down the narrative and makes it stilted. I’m not a fan of overly descriptive stuff either

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Yay for you! I, too, tend to write dialogue heavy stories. I have to force myself to weave description into my tales. I can see my people and their locations perfectly, so I’m trying to remember that the reader doesn’t have my eyes. But, nothing ticks me off like too much descriptive detail. I grew up reading Louis L’Amour westerns. Loved them. Someone suggested that Zane Gray was even better, so I tried reading his works. L’Amour could set a scene in one paragraph; whereas, Zane Gray may might go on for pages. I admired his command of descriptive prose, but never read more than two of his books. I’ve read L’Amour’s novels again and again. He mastered the art of descriptive writing. Even if you don’t care for westerns, his writing is like a master class.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not a fan of westerns but I will check out his work. I’m like you, I see the story in my head, but I don’t know how much the scenery matters when the story is a about a bunch of women who spend a lot of time talking in kitchens

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      1. I went through a phase where I read all of L’Amour’s books. I didn’t care for his last one—it was a little odd, but his early stuff is gold. They say that if he wrote about a tree on the trail then that tree was actually on that trail.

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  13. Congrats on a great writing month! So proud of you. What I do to help me with description is if I am at a stoplight I think of how I would describe the vehicle next to me. If I am in line at the bank I think of how I would describe the bank lobby. It helps me think about color and objects and how to describe them correctly.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Description for the sake of description is distracting. Too many metaphors or similes in a row, and I want to skip over them. If the description is relevant to the story or character, include it, otherwise stay true to your and the character’s vision. If they are minimalists, their story can be too. Remember Hemingway’s iceberg – 80% is unseen!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hmm…not sure who told you novel readers need ‘a laundry list’ of how something looks – information dumps are definitely to be avoided. In fact, there’s no reason you can’t use a similar technique to short story writing, and drop information in now and again to build up a picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll give you an example of critique….my opening scene is 4 women at a kitchen table talking about one woman’s lack of love life. I’ve been asked, what are they eating, what does the dining area look like, what are they wearing, what colors are being used, what are they wearing, where is the dining area in correlation to the Kitchen…..all in the first chapter. There is no way I can organically get all that information in the first chapter , plus the things I think are important without it coming out like a laundry list. I don’t know….maybe I’m odd, but I don’t give a &$@* if a character is wearing capris or a skirt, as long as her dialogue is good….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s contextual – if the story returns to the kitchen later, a little more information is probably needed than if it is a standalone setting. But in any case, there’s no need for long detailed descriptions; rather than (for example) listing the kitchen fittings and decor, generalisations like ‘a shabby, old-fashioned kitchen’ go a long way towards painting a picture of the scene. Then just a mention of a ‘bucket under the sink’ or ‘the grimy sash window’ give a little more detail. Key words.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I used thoroughly generic and modern (meaning it was a typical house in a development) and I was asked color, appliances….stuff I don’t ever notice or care about….to me it seemed petty….I mean really….you can tell by the dialogue that it’s supposed to be well educated middle class women. Does it really matter if it’s a country Kitchen or deco?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Probably not, although every reader will have a different opinion about that. You’ll probably find you can’t win either way – I’ve had critiques of the same piece of work say diametrically opposite things before; each one, after all, is only someone’s opinion!

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow, congrats on all the various writing activities — and a first draft (sort of)! 🙂

    I thought it was interesting how you presented the differences between short stories and longer works: “Many of my classmates favor very ambiguous stories. They’re OK with limited, or no plot. They’re OK with vague descriptions. They’re OK with no dialogue. These are things the novel people never want to read/see.”

    This may be the prevailing view of the distinction between short and longer works—but actually I think it’s only a matter of who’s writing and what. (There are so many different kinds of readers out there!)

    For example (to take three “B”-s that first come to mind):
    – Bukowski’s stories in “Hot Water Music” are heavy on the dialogue (he’s a master of the classy retort);
    – Borges’s stories in “Labyrinths” are heavy on the detailed and factual (invented facts, mind you!);
    – Bruno Schulz’s stories in “The Street of Crocodiles” are heavy on convoluted metaphors and descriptions (magical realism).

    Plot is a slippery concept, and there’s only so much you can do plot when you’ve got a short story, but I’ve seen some which cram in a decent amount (in all three of the guises mentioned above).

    Same goes for novels. John Banville does tiny amounts of plot, but plenty of lovely descriptions and psychoanalysis (which keeps you hooked); any genre crime novel will pack in plot but go low on the descriptions (which also keeps you hooked). And there’s all that stuff in the middle (which also keeps you hooked). Maybe I should have said “keeps *me* hooked” 😛

    Good luck agent-hunting!

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    1. Thank you for incredibly helpful comments!! You brought a lot of things to the forefront of my mind that I probably should be thinking about. My plot is simple , and my story is about love and friendship as you get older. I know my strength,which is dialogue, and also write funny and clever (who knew I could be funny). I’m not a lush writer, for lack of a better word…my descriptions are not particularly wordy. I try to get my point across via human nature. I just write what I feel, and hope it makes sense!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Speaking of “lush writing”, my series this week is on crafting imaginative descriptions, which will either interest you or set your teeth on edge—depending on which way your mood swings in the love/hate relationship with “lush” (I suspect that’s what I call “lyrical”) 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Lyrical and lush….I think of them as the same. I’m starting to come to a happy medium on description. Except what I wrote this morning which is teeth clenching bad!!

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  17. First Draft. Wow, I thought that was all about theme, voice, structure, and finding where the plot holes be. I didn’t know it was detailed as where the kitchen sink be situated.

    You got this novel thing.

    Regards,

    Liked by 1 person

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