Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Make it Real

Word-padding is only a bad thing for a writer if done poorly. If a description can draw the reader deeper into your novel's universe, then using ten words where two would have worked is a fine idea.

Case in point, I've got a finished (but still too short) novel called "Olympian Outcast". (Think Rick Riordon's Olympians series with a dash of "My Teacher is an Alien".) At roughly 84,000 words, it's still too short to be taken seriously by any of the traditional publishing houses.

I've added words every way I could think of. I described the settings until you could navigate them with your eyes closed - and that includes Hera's floating cottage, currently anchored in the sky above Australia. I added debates between the secondary characters (*ducks lightning bolt as Zeus realizes she just called him 'secondary'*), debates that only tangentially touched on the main plot. I added dream sequences, flashbacks, pointless flirtation, and petty jealousies...and all of that only got me to 83,000 words.

Then, I thought back to what defined my main character, Celesta. She senses lies and draws power from those deceits. The power is even more intoxicating when a god or goddess tries to lie through his or her teeth to Celesta.

What I haven't done yet is describe how the transferrence of those lies feels to Celesta.

  • If it's the same every time, then I would effectively have a character tag. You've seen this in books before, when every mention of a character's name seems to be followed by a consistent epitaph or some description of a physical trait
    • Celesta felt the familiar surge of power enter her, and stumbled slightly at the impact.
Unfortunately, if I use the same sentence every time some deity so much as mutters a white lie, the reader will get bored, not to mention begin questioning Celesta's sense of balance.
  • If it's different every time, I can use more words, personalize each scene and each lie, and show variety.
    • Celesta wondered if Zeus realized how painful his lies were. She should have just been grateful that he wasn't hurling lightning bolts, but the lies he was telling about the disappearances felt jagged and unwelcome. His lies were powerful, but that power rushed into her, with little regard for whether she could handle it. Celesta clenched her jaw, closed her eyes for a moment, and regained composure before Zeus noticed anything was amiss.
    • Celesta felt the conflict in Ares' lie distinctly, as though witnessing in a single instant all of the battles Ares had ever instigated. His deceit was blunt and sharp at the same time, the lie crashed into her like a line of charging warhorses and pinned her down as though a cannonball had just knocked her into a tree. Celesta remained standing and shook her head, disoriented.
The benefit to describing each lie differently is that it reveals two things:
1. The characterization of the god or goddess who just lied, and
2. The differing effects their lies have on Celesta.

Not every story will have a supernatural element like that, but you can apply description to your main character's interactions regardless of the setting or character's identity.

For today's writing prompt, I'll give you a few characters and a trait for each one. Try to write a lengthy description relating the trait to the character. Is the description just good filler material, or does it give you plot ideas?

Writing Prompt 1:
Character - a carpenter, working on a chair
Trait - the carpenter is sneezing from the wood dust

Writing Prompt 2:
Character - a physicist, about to solve the 'three bodies' problem
Trait - a classic rock song is stuck in his head, interfering with his calculations

Have fun, and keep writing!

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