(Originally posted over at Author Allsorts)
Every writer has a different style when it comes to description. Some use only a minimal amount, focusing instead on action and dialogue, with short, sharp bursts of description to ground it all. Others really build it up, winding their narrative around atmospheric writing that’s so alive it’s almost another character.
Personally, I’ve always loved description. Both reading and writing it. When it comes to writing, however, especially if you’re in the children’s/young adult arena, description is usually one of the things to cut back on. I often cut around 20k of words from my first draft during a first edit (!), and a lot of that come from description. But it doesn’t mean you can’t have any description – it’s just about being clever with how you use it.
Here’s a little checklist you can use when you’re writing or editing to keep your description concise but powerful. Of course, these are just a few things to look for, but hopefully they’re helpful!
- Is the vocabulary you are using varied? We all have those crutch words and phrases. When you’re editing, look out for them and replace them where you can with new turns of phrases. Even just switching up the verbs can be effective. Eg. My heart dashed against my ribcage. You can replace dashed with crashed, slammed, smashed … the synonyms finder in Word is your friend!
- Is your description active? Meaning, does it intertwine with the action and narrative? Eg. Leaves slapped my face as I ran, but I didn’t stop, feet slamming, beating on the muddy ground, the dappled golden light filtering through the trees just a blur around me. Think of how you can weave description in without slowing the pace of a scene.
- Are you featuring all the senses? Don’t just focus on the visual – really immerse your reader in your world by using all the senses in your description. Smells and sounds are so evocative. And what’s the texture of the scene? If your character is scrabbling on the ground, describe the way the dirt feels under their fingertips, the rich, loamy scent of the earth around them. More on 360 writing here.
- Have you relied on cliches? Again, something I spot when editing a first draft are instances where I’ve been lazy and fallen on cliched descriptions. Rewrite those parts with fresh, unexpected language. Play the scene over and over in your head to hunt for those interesting details you missed before.
- Do you focus too much on description at the start of a scene? Sometimes I’m so excited about a setting I find myself wanting to lay it all out at the start of the scene. But hold back! Readers are clever. They can pick up and piece bits together as they go. If you find yourself writing a block of description at the beginning of each chapter, break it up and interweave it with the narrative.
- Are you describing through your characters? Make your description more powerful by personalising it. Ask yourself what your characters are seeing, feeling, hearing, experiencing, and really sense the scene through them. Use those insights to add emotion to your description and keep it from feeling detached.
What are your mistakes when it comes to writing description, and do you have any tips to overcome them? Let me know in the comments below
Happy writing sweeties! x
Drumroll please lovely readers, because I have truly exciting news that I’m finally allowed to announce! You might have heard already if you’re up to date on all things YA, but Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman has organised YALC, the UK’s very first young adult literature convention, and me?
I’m in it.
YALC will take place at the London Film and Comic Con 2014 (LFCC). The two-day convention takes place on July 12th-13th, bringing together the UK’s YA publishers to provide a host of author events in a dedicated Book Zone, with talks, workshops, signings, a book sales area and publisher stands promoting new and upcoming titles. Here’s the initial list of authors that’ll be there -
• Malorie Blackman
• James Dawson
• Matt Haig
• Derek Landy
• Sophie McKenzie
• Patrick Ness
• Natasha Ngan
• Darren Shan
• Ruth Warburton
Yes. That is my name. Nestled there amongst – much bigger and greater – names such as Derek Landy and Malorie Blackman and Patrick Ness and Darren Shan is MY NAME. You know what I think about that?
I’m the only debut author on the list. It was such a shock to find out I’d be selected to appear – I mean, Malorie Blackman herself is curating the whole thing! – and it was definitely one of those times when I took a step back and realised, man, I’m actually a proper author now. Because the truth of the matter is, sometimes, sitting at home day after day, night after night, writing and writing and writing away, it’s easy to forget that. But this was just a lovely little moment that reminded me people out there are actually reading my words, and one of them might even be Mrs Malorie frikkin Blackman herself.
If you’re in London in July then you must must must come to the convention! I’d love to be able to meet some readers and, let’s face it, with the calibre of authors on the list I’m gonna need all the backup I can get! You can get tickets already right here. I’ll update you when I know exactly what I’ll be doing at the event, but until then – squeeeeeee! x
A stunning novel about the power of hatred, revenge – and love.
Goodreads | Amazon
They say I’m evil.
The police. The newspapers. The girls from school who sigh on the six o’clock news and say they always knew there was something not quite right about me.
And everyone believes it. Including you.
But you don’t know. You don’t know who I used to be. Who I could have been.
Told from the diary-style writings of Emily Knoll, a girl awaiting trial for a crime we don’t yet know, Heart-Shaped Bruise explores the story of two girls whose lives have been wound together by the actions of their fathers. Emily Knoll didn’t know she was the daughter of a gangster until Juliet Shaw stabbed her father. Now, Emily wants revenge.
This is a taut, immersive thriller with a narrator who is often despicable but at the same time, utterly utterly human. Byrne has crafted Emily masterfully – she’s an engaging character, complex and difficult, and you’re drawn deeper into her story and mind with every turn of the page. The diary-style format and short chapters, and the way Emily tells her story jumping back and forth between before her arrest and after all build the suspense. I read the book in two sittings, I was so immersed in Emily’s story and desperate to find out all the details, and felt ragged by the end of it.
Raw, tense, and powerful, Heart-Shaped Bruise will keep you thinking long after the last page – just how far will someone go to break apart the person who took away everything they love? And in the end – who is it they’re really breaking?
It was a year of many wonderful firsts. My first ever edit with an actual editor! My first ever page proofs! My first ever party at my publishers! My first ever cover! My first ever book launch! And of course – my first ever BOOK! So, so exciting.
I won’t ever get to experience my debut year again, and by the end of this year I won’t even be a debut author anymore. That’s kind of scary, but also great because it means I’ve got another chance with readers with my second book. And it’s also a little sad. My debut year was so much fun, and I’m so excited for those of you who have yet to experience yours – you have got so many amazing things in store. It’ll be overwhelming and crazy and such a whirlwind, but I’m sure you’ll love every moment of it (except when you get your first bad review. That’s kind of a bummer, fyi).
A few things I learnt in 2013 …
- Hot Key are the bosses of covers
- Twitter is the best place to chat to other writers
- Book launches are a b*tch to plan. Start early and don’t try and make 100+ cupcakes the night before
- Some people will really hate the name Butterfly for a male character …
- … And some people will really love it
- Emails from your literary agent will always make you feel better
- Take your time with edits. By the time it gets to the proofing stage it’s too late to make bigger changes
- A character that looks like Andrew Garfield will make his way into every book I write
- Writing doesn’t really get easier after you’re published. Each new book is it’s own unique beast. But you do get more confident in yourself, and so it becomes a little easier to deal with the difficulties of writing (which are just as difficult)
- Bad reviews suck …
- … But getting good ones is the best feeling in the world
Thank you so much to everyone who supported me and The Elites last year! I can’t wait to see what 2014 will bring x
Short answer: Not a lot.
Long answer: A few things change, but mostly it’s back to the usual. And by usual I mean, more writing. EVEN more now, because you’re feeling the pressure from your publisher’s deadline (if you had more than a one book deal), and you have readers now who are waiting on you to write more.
Some little secrets -
1. Writing is no easier after the first book
In general, I’ve not found it any more or less difficult, though certain aspects have become easier. For example, I feel more confident about my own writing, which helps fight that annoying bugger I like to call The Fear (more on that here), and I’m more aware of the narrative structure of a novel, so can self-edit that as I go.
But in some ways, it’s harder too. Now I’m not just worrying about writing a book for myself. There are readers – real, actual people who thought my first book was ok enough to want more – waiting for book 2. And did I mention the pressure of writing to a deadline? Stupidly, I overcome this by taking back control and setting my own deadlines – closer than my publisher’s. TAKE THAT, PRESSURE. Weirdly, it works for me.
2. Bad reviews suck
Ughhh, it’s a horrible, twisty feeling when you come across these. But come across these you will. Look at Harry Potter, look at your most dearest, forever-in-your-heart books. They all have bad reviews too. So although it sucks, you’ve just got to learn to deal.
A little trick I use. After reading a not-so-great review, flick back to a good one. A really really good one. Read. Repeat. You’ll feel better in no time.
3. Prepare for the post-publication funk
My wise, wise agent was the one who made me realise post-publication funk was a thing. I’d been struggling, really struggling, with my WIP in the weeks after The Elites came out. I doubted everything I wrote. Each day, writing was like tearing words from my eyeballs. I did everything I could to avoid it, even getting seriously ill and spending a few weeks bed-bound (ok, so that might not have been intentional. But perhaps it was my body saying, Hold the eff up! I’m scared! Don’t make me do this!). I emailed to my agent to explain how I was going to be late on the deadline we’d agreed on, and she wrote back a wonderful message that included this piece of advice (which hopefully she doesn’t mind me sharing) -
“Don’t underestimate the slightly blindsiding feeling of having THE ELITES out there, your first book on the shelves. It’s a dizzying feeling and can provoke all sorts of weird reactions.”
I wanted to share that with you all because I think it’s so true. For many first-time authors – this definitely applied to me – having a book published is a dream. Maybe even The Dream. And when it’s out, the dream has come true, and it’s both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. Be prepared to feel a bit off. Be prepared to give yourself a break. Take time to let the reality of what’s happened sink in. Because -
You did it.
You did it.