Lessons from the Monster · novels · writing

Lessons from the Monster: Descriptions

It’s time for another lesson on what not to do, ghastly mistakes courtesy of myself and The Monster. For anyone who has not already heard me bemoaning it, The Monster is a half million word long catastrophe of a novel, with which I’m fairly sure I made every mistake in the book of mistakes while writing.

Today’s topic? Descriptions.

Descriptions in writing are my weak link, my Achilles heel, my whatever other analogies there are for this situation. I had to search hard in all six Angel books just to find the short examples I’ll use today, because I really don’t do many descriptions in any of my writing. It’s a serious fault, one that drives my amazing crit partner crazy, so a fault I will chew nails if necessary to fix.

Since I almost never stretch my description-writing muscle, I suck at it. I mean epic suckage. Think of all the description clichés you can think of, and that’s me. On a good day. You have much learn on how not to do it from me.

So, let us begin the lesson!

A Sacred Promise (Book One)

I stared at the huge, stone castle rising up out of the rainy fog. It was four stories high and sprawled across the property like a lounging horse.

 

Not everything was gray. In the windows I could see dark, wine red curtains. A light shone from the living room window on the first floor.

That just reads weird, doesn’t it? I’m not fond of it at all, partly because it doesn’t give this pretty awesome house justice at all. But mostly I hate it, and it’s awful, because of one phrase. It’s underlined, in case you couldn’t find it ^_^

The phrase reads incredibly awkwardly. My mind was on horses, because a horse played an integral part in the plot, and… yeah, there really is no excuse for that. I admit it.

But, my overactive wincing and grimacing aside, there are reasons why this description is aesthetically and, um audio-ly, unappealing. Analogies or similes should be new and inventive, but they should still be easy for the reader to understand.

Try to imagine a lounging horse. It’s not an image that makes you immediately (or ever, really) say ah, gotcha.

The house is a two hundred year old stone castle that has been in Angelica’s family for multiple generations. It means a lot to her. None of that is conveyed through this description.

Lesson learned: Using weird analogies is a big no-no. When in doubt, stay simple.

The Promise Child (Book Four)

“So you’re Angelica Fulleri.” General Marriott stood in front of me. He was about six and a half feet tall, with graying black hair, and the fiercest pair of black eyes known to man. He made me think of Hell in twenty years.

People descriptions are the worst for me. It’s so hard not to fall into the hair was blonde, eyes were blue depictions that I used when I first put pen to paper. Angelica was sort of in the midst of things, and I didn’t want to bog down the scene with a long, sucky description.

This is a slightly personalized version of the hair was blonde thing; basically, a run down of height, hair and eye color. And when you think about it, that really doesn’t tell you anything about the person’s appearance. I know a dozen people with, for instance, brown hair and brown eyes, but none of them look anything alike.

General Marriott is an important character, and plays a big part in books four, five, and six. The description he got might have been okay for a character just passing through, but I think I could have given him a little more love.

Lesson learned: Integral characters get as detailed a description as their position dictates. Smaller characters can have briefer descriptions.

Dark Angel Rising (Book Five) & the Angel Virus (Book Six)

I opened my eyes. I was in a room. It was blue. There was a dolphin border. I was in a bed with a chocolate brown comforter with blue flowers around the edges. My head was on a really soft pillow. Sunlight came in through the sheer chocolate curtains. I could hear the beach.

 

I spun around. There was a door behind me. It hung halfway open. Weak sunlight shone into the hall.

 

Something else in the building creaked. I heard a thud as something fell. Sunlight blazed into the building as Amberly and Leila fought the door open.

 

Dominic and I went outside. Warm sunlight bathed the courtyard and I could hear some kids laughing on the hospital playground just out of sight around the building.

 

The apartment was done up in white and black. Warm sunlight came through the wall of windows that faced the street.

 

Sunlight bathed down on me as I tore out of the parking garage and took off up the sidewalk.

 

The day was bright and sunny, bathing my office in cheerful sunshine.

I don’t really have to point out what the problem is here, do I? Holy kimchi. If I mention sun or sunlight or sunshine ever again, I am going to shoot myself in the foot. I cannot believe how many times I mentioned the sun in my descriptions of places. I’m about to cut the word out of my vocabulary.

One of the few things worse than a bad piece of writing is a bad piece of writing that you keep using over and over and over again. And I wore this was nearly to death, and then I beat it back into shape and used it some more.

Sunlight and I have a thing. I was born in the golden state of California (this is why I try to hibernate during winner, and it would have worked but for school. DARN YOU, WINTER SCHOOL SESSION!). But while warm, golden sunlight in real life never gets old, talking about it does.

Lesson learned: No matter how awful, no matter how brilliant, repeatedly using a certain element makes it feel overused and denigrated.

Now, go forth, my readers! Peruse your descriptions, search for your good ones, laugh at the ones that need work. Then come back and tell us all about ’em!

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from the Monster: Descriptions

  1. Ah, I know just what you mean. I’m one of those people that has an insane amount of description, and the strangest ones, in so, so many places. I’m definitely the sort of person who needs to slash and burn so many words out of a draft because I either end up repeating the same thing over and over (and it’s usually one of the more awkward of phrases at that) or the whole elaborate simile/metaphor that I used just got stretched to the point where it didn’t make any sense. Sometimes it works, though, and other times…it just doesn’t. It’s definitely a good thing to poke fun at former novels and to learn from all the old mistakes, and I love how you’re turning them into “Lessons from the Monster.” But, um, hello!

    1. Hi! 🙂

      I don’t know what it is with me, but I almost never have description in my writing. I think purely of dialogue. I thought that writing that way might mean I’d be better at doing scripts, but… yeah, my first attempt was pretty pathetic. It’s novels for me. So I must master this whole description thing sooner or later.

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