Hello, class, and welcome to another session of writing instruction. Today we will be discussing that little extra flavoring that will take your excerpt from blasé to at least palatable.
In layman’s terms, we’re going to start with a frozen pepperoni pizza and make it a meal from Mickey D’s. With practice, we may go as classy as Texas Roadhouse.
We’re going to need a lame sentence. No, not that one I just wrote. Or any of these descriptive ones.
Sheesh! You’re so literal!
How about, “When he saw her face, he knew he was in love.”
This is not a terrible sentence. For one thing, it has my first step:
1. Please ensure that your subject matter is interesting.
Something readers want to read is the somewhat-necessary skeleton we need to even start improving that sucker.
Besides our example, you can go with topics of Science Fiction (The alien moved closer to the frightened child), Dystopian (No one had eaten for days since The Great Famine), Horror (She heard the heavy footsteps drawing closer, though she saw no one), or Fantasy (Erglefigman took the Staff of Woidjkin boldly, saying the magic words…).
2. Name your characters. If you’re running with that fantasy idea, name him/her/it with a more simple title (please!).
Does this idea seem daunting? You have the internet; use a name-generator.
Applied to our example, we have, “When Steve saw Elisa, he knew he was in love.”
Yes, I used the name generator.
3. Don’t be afraid of other words. You’re a writer: words are the prismatic expression you splash upon a ready canvas.
Unsure what to say? As I have already mentioned in other How-To’s, Thesaurus Man has got your back. Don’t leave him hanging.
Looking up “saw,” “knew,” and “love,” we can spice things up to, “When Steve glanced at Elisa, he realized he was smitten.”
4. Show, don’t tell. Yep, you’ve heard this one. Seriously -you read it three seconds ago.
Yes, sometimes you need to tell. A full-length novel where every single action was described instead of named would be torturous.
Instead of “He stubbed his toe, dropping the pizza sauce all over his father’s sleeve,” you might have, “A loud exclamation fell from Todd’s lips as pain spread upwards from his injured toe. His father, meanwhile, felt the stinging heat and saucy redness of pizza sauce spread upwards from his shoulder.” Yes, it’s more interesting -but, only in some ways. Always writing like that would be laborious to the writer and unclear to the reader.
So: show, but don’t be annoying about it. We’ll settle on keeping what we have and adding a sentence of detail. “The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes. When Steve glanced at Elisa, just then, he realized he was smitten.”
5. Add dialogue. Do your characters have the ability to talk? Then, they should.
Vocalizations are normal; we all express ourselves. They can, and would, be used during action scenes. They need to be sprinkled in naturally around adjectives, reactions, descriptions, etc.
A conversation can also be used to show, not tell and thesaurusize your story.
“The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes.
‘Yes?’ Elisa asked. She’d noted his glance.
‘Um,’ Steve replied. He realized he was smitten.”
6. Inject your flavor of writing.
Everyone has a writing style, a flavor, a way of expression. If you feel you still haven’t stumbled upon this illusive thing, you’re in the same boat as many writers. In fact, I’m certain we’re about cruise ship-sized over here.
I am equally certain each artist has one, and that it will be uncovered the more one practices one’s art. You will lean to using certain patterns, words, jokes, phrasing, or anglophilic references.
Since I am the one writing this, our example has had my flavor this whole time.
Someone else creating a story might go with word patterns, nonsense terms, different ways to interrupt the actions and descriptions, or other things said and observed.
7. Go a tad over the top with characteristics, actions, settings, etc.
I mentioned several of the writing steps we’ve gone over so far in a previous post, including the advice to be specific. Being specific is important, as is writing believably, so the story is relatable. However, the general public also likes extremes of personality and actions.
For example, all of the characters in Harry Potter are distinct. Even minor ones have odd foibles like a weird goat fetish.
The adventures are outlandish, like allowing a 12-year-old to face a full-grown wizard after other deadly dangers. But, people ate it up.
On the flip side is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. If not for the audio version, I would have quickly lost track of which person was penning which letter and why that mattered. I found myself wishing for more differences of personality.
I’ll add a bit more to ours, and then leave it to cool on the windowsill. Hopefully it’ll garner a few stars of a passing critic’s famished review.
“The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes. Night sounds of distant traffic far below joined the background conversations of party guests. Steve felt frozen in sound, feeling, and time.
‘Yes?’ Elisa demanded. She’d noted his glance, and wondered at his expression.
‘Um,’ Steve replied. He realized he was smitten.
Pop! The first forgotten bulb broke against the patio floor near Elisa’s bare right foot. Pop! Clunk!, then a swishing coil of overlapping noises echoed from the walls and stairs nearby as the remaining lights slid from her careless arms.
Unencumbered now, she drew closer, stepping over the discarded strand. Steve saw her dainty feet illuminated from bulbs below as she stepped; noted her slight waver, her impending nearness, and the way a sudden rooftop wind pulled at her black skirt.
Steve knew life would never be normal again, and that he would never regret the inevitable upset. His eyes found hers, even darker now. She walked to stand right in front of him; poor, hypnotized fool.”