Hello legendary readers! Today, we have special guest author J. B. Garner. I recently read his book Rune Service and fell in love, but you’ll get to hear more on that one next week. This week, he’ll be sharing some seriously helpful advice on balancing your writing. And heeeeeeeere’s J. B.!
Hello! My name is J. B. Garner, author, editor, and fellow reader, living in Pensacola, FL. I hope you’re all having a great day, and I also hope you’re ready to talk writing! MeLeesa asked me if I could take a second to talk about one of my favorite topics when it comes to the art of wordsmithing, so thinking about it, I decided to have a chat with y’all about description in fiction and how we look at the world, both real and fictional. Enjoy!
As a writer, your job is a hectic one. Not only do you need to create and characterize your cast, you have to script the plot, provide dramatic tension, and so on. One of the most important duties you face is the creation and description of the world surrounding your characters. After all, every actor needs a stage on which to perform!
There are many theories and styles of writing descriptive text, too many for such a humble article as this. What I want to focus on today is the balance of description with the action of the plot. Essentially, the effect that unbalanced description and exposition can have on the pacing of your story and how to work around this unbalance in a natural way.
We all know what unbalanced description looks like. When every character is introduced with a paragraph of lovingly written description, from top to bottom and every bit of clothing, that is unbalanced. When every intricacy of the environment is laid out, that is unbalanced. When every action is laden with adverbs and adjectives, no matter how minor, that is unbalanced.
I’ve heard it said that the more senses you can engage with the reader, the more memorable your writing becomes. I don’t deny this, but it must come in a natural balance. Trying to engage too many senses at once or simply giving into purple prose causes the kind of unbalanced text blocks I talk about above. The detrimental effect this can have on your plot, especially the pacing of it, should be obvious.
Worse yet, unbalanced description is unnatural when it comes to how we perceive the real world. When you meet someone for the first time, especially in passing, do you really pay that much attention to them? The human mind loves to generalize and categorize things to deal with the amazing breadth of input our sense provide. On first sight, most things in our environment are categorized and then put into a box, then otherwise ignored until we force ourselves to focus on them.
That’s why unusual things draw our attention so easily. They don’t fit in a predetermined category and our brain sends the signals that we need to focus on this thing closely. Even on things that we focus on, data doesn’t just come in like a computer readout. Different people focus on different aspects of people and objects. Not every detail is immediately apparent or important. On top of that, the situation the observer is in dictates a lot about where his/her focus will be. A character in a dangerous action sequence will have far different priorities and focus than one sitting at a bar, for example.
You can use this naturalistic approach to description and observation to balance out your descriptions. As we naturally pick up details over time as focus and perception change, you can likewise parcel out description over a scene instead of clumping it all up in one paragraph. Consider what a character’s focus might be and use that to describe the most important details at the time, bringing the rest out as they come to the fore.
You can even use this technique to add to your characterization efforts. What a particular character sees first in another can be a clue as to their priorities, background, and knowledge. How a character sees their world can be as insightful as how they interact with it.
I hope that was helpful! Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!
Wow! Thanks J. B.! I suddenly have the urge to go back and check my new manuscript to see how I’ve been ding with that. Lol.
Ok. To learn more about J. B. Garner and his work, just click here.
J. B. Garner was born in Baltimore, MD on December 1, 1976, the youngest of three children. While still young, the family moved to Peachtree City, GA. His parents always encouraged his creative side and J. B. began writing and drawing from an early age. Though considered talented by his teachers, he never fully applied himself and bounced through high school and into college at the Georgia Institute of Technology. During his freshman year, his father died suddenly.
Grief and lack of purpose caused J. B. to drop out of school. If not for a few close friends, he might have dropped out of life as well. Taken in by his friends and given a second chance, J. B. matured, applied himself, and finally, after over a decade of hard work, is now back to doing what he loves the most: writing.