It’s National Novel Writing Month, but as the congenitally contrary person I am, this will probably be the one month I will get very little novel writing done. I had social plans up the wazoo this month long before it became the month I had to pack and move and unpack at both home and work.
Nevertheless, I’m thinking about writing this morning because the book I grabbed to read on the bus was “The First Five Pages”. Reading lots of self-editing books these days, being in the self-editing stage of my novel and all. So I’m reading the chapter on “Show, don’t Tell”, feeling pretty good about myself because I actually suck at exposition. My writing coach, who spent two years beta-reading the previous draft of my novel, would write in her virtual marginal notes, “You’re great at showing what is going on, but you need a little exposition here. Explain what the *&^%’s going on!” OK, she didn’t curse, but I take poetic license here to get across her frustration.
I’m a very visual/auditory writer. I see the story taking place in my head like it’s on television, or a film, and I write down what I see and hear. Despite all the books I read (and I read plenty growing up and am working hard on having a habit now, too), my mentor was still the boob tube. And the movie screen. And let’s face it, in those mediums exposition comes in tiny bits and pieces in the dialog. Narrators are so passe’.
But you want to know what the really dumb idiot irony is? I suck at descriptive writing, too. You want interesting, natural-sounding dialog? I’m your gal. Fascinating, three-dimensional characters? Come to me. But ask me to describe something in my character’s bedroom, say, her dresser, and I’ll say, “Er… it’s brown. And rectangular.” If I even bother describing it at all or mentioning that there is a dresser in her bedroom, because mostly I forget to describe the environment. I’m so focused on the people and what they’re doing and saying, like any good TV-generation child, I just don’t notice anything else.
But I know other people do notice. They see what’s in front of them on the sidewalk, they stop and smell the roses. I don’t. I’m one of those people who walks down the street so absorbed in her own thoughts she walks into parked cars.
Details escape me. And I don’t know how to focus in on them, much less describe them on paper.
And then when the writing books tell you to leave out the inconsequential detail and focus in on things that are illuminating of plot or character or serve metaphoric purposes, I’m drowning in a sea of “But that’s too hard!” whining. “I got the brown and rectangular part of her dresser so people could visualize her room and that was hard enough, and now you’re telling me it’s irrelevant?”
I know some folks on my friends list are well-read readers, and some are writers, and some are even poets, and therefore a bazillion times better at description than me. What’s the secret?