Winter’s cold or Frigid air with swirls of frosty breath that left ice crystals on his beard that soon became icicles – Huh?

As I write this, it is spitting out the first winter precipitation for our area (North Carolina Piedmont). We tend to get overly excited over just one flake or ice pellet. The bread flies off the grocery store shelves with just a hint of winter in the forecast. Milk is equally in high demand. We all learned that lesson several years ago when we had a whopper snow that kept all of us in our homes for ten days.

A rare event in NC - enough to clear grocery store shelves!

A rare event in NC – enough to clear grocery store shelves!

Okay, I know all of you who live in colder climates are laughing at us. And believe me, even we who are snow starved cried in sympathy with the folks in Buffalo over the excess snow they had earlier this season. Too much of anything is bad, just as is too little. Which brings me to my point; what does this have to do with writing?

I recently read an excellent blog about the proper amount of description to use when developing a story, characters, or setting. There were points made on both sides of the issue; all of them valid.

For me, less is more. I believe in the reader’s ability to fill in the details according to their take on the written word. Now, I’m not talking basics here. We all need to know the character’s sex, age, location setting, and basic personality traits. But beyond that, what is needed?

There is a very prolific author whose stories I enjoy. But, I’ve noticed that in more recent books, some of the descriptions are overkill; way too many words to describe a relatively unimportant action, or trait. And that is when I start skipping pages to get on to the meat of the story.

There is another prolific author that I also enjoy reading and this person has a skill I truly admire; that of minimal description. With one or two words, this author paints a complete picture that I can not only see in my head, but feel as if I know the character or scene in question.

So, which way should an author go to be successful in writing? My preference is obvious. But, what about yours? Next time I will discuss some ideas about developing one’s descriptive skills. Meanwhile, I hope each and every one of you has the best Christmas holiday ever and a New Year filled with the best of the best of God’s blessings!

Distorted Words

Distorted thinking. Most people hear this term and think some type of mental dysfunction is at play. But in reality, we all are affected by distortion in our lives.

These windows distort the light, so images cannot appear true when viewed through this distorted lens.

These windows distort the light, so images cannot appear true when viewed through this distorted lens.

We get so used to it, however, that after a while, we don’t see it or even notice it.

So, what does this have to do with writing? First of all, when writing, it is very easy to “get lost” in the story, the characters or even the setting. We see our work as “complete” when in reality it may be missing key pieces, such as words, punctuation, or even information that was intended to be included but left out.

Writing distortion can happen to anyone. You don’t have to be a new writer to suffer from it. In fact, seasoned writers may be more prone to distortion since they have developed a routine of writing that causes the brain to develop a picture of what is perceived and therefore makes it harder to detach from that picture and actually see missing words or words that are out of place.

It is frustrating to read works that are well thought out, executed and meaningful only to see the word that should have been deleted, or is the wrong tense, or uses the wrong “two” instead of the correct “too” glaring at you. It’s like an email you get that tells you “your” going to love whatever it is they are selling. Instead, most likely “you’re” going to by-pass that message, dismissing it because of the glaring mis-use of a word. I could just scream!

I recently read an excellent, fast-paced, and thrilling novel. It was truly one that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. The problem? I lost count after finding thirty-five “distortions” (words missing or unnecessary, ones that made no sense, or had the wrong spelling) in the first chapter alone. I enjoyed the book but let the author know that a good and thorough copy edit was needed.

And this brings up the whole point of editing. We all need it! We need someone other than ourselves to carefully read through and check for these types of mistakes. In this day and age of computers, spell checks and even predictive text, it is easier than ever to overlook these distorted words.  It happens to every writer.

Yeah, I know. Not every writer can afford a professional edit. But the truth is, even if you get picked up by a traditional publisher, most authors, unless already well known, are responsible for the edit. So, how does a writer deal with such things?

Get a friend to read your manuscript. Be open to any suggestions made. If you have a friend who teaches or is a big reader; especially of the genre you are writing, even better. Again, it may not be the high priced edit, but it will help you get your work to the place you want it to be.

Another option is to put your manuscript in a drawer or somewhere that it won’t constantly remind you of its presence. This only works if deadlines are not in play! After your work has aged appropriately, pull it out and savor your words. Look at each one slowly and without haste. Judge it as if it is a fine wine that only gets better with time. Imperfections will show up easier and you won’t be as likely to overlook them. Even with this route, it is still a great idea to have another person read it, preferably someone who did not read it earlier.

None of us is perfect and that will never change. We can work to be the best we can be, with each attempt improving us and our talent. Even though we all know we won’t achieve perfection, we can reach for this goal and that makes for work that is worth attention, good, positive attention. We want to be noticed, but for all the right reasons.

Go grab that glass of wine. Swirl it about your glass. Notice the fine details. Consider how the meniscus marks the side of the glass. Study the clarity of the liquid. Inhale the vapors and savor the aroma. Don’t be afraid of age, both in the wine and in your work. Both can produce an even better product. Cheers!