Category Archives: Musings

Description

description wordleIt’s a badly-kept secret that I prefer writing dialogue to writing description.To me, description should be brief but substantial, so that it delivers plenty of information to the mind’s eye without blathering on and on about the color of someone’s shirt or going into painfully explicit detail about the way the setting sun strikes the forest floor through the tree canopy.

The sunlight is dappled, okay? I don’t need to know that the light is pale lemon yellow as it stabs through the pine needles, or dark and rusty looking as it weaves its way from the sky to the scattered carpet of brown and crispy oak leaves on the forest floor. I really, honestly don’t care. The sunlight is dappled. That’s enough for my mind’s eye to conjure up a crisp carpet of leaves below and a lush canopy above.

I once spent weeks studying character descriptions in novels. I didn’t look at descriptions of the main characters, because those should occur frequently throughout the book.

What I found was that in nearly every case, the author used around 100 words of description when introducing other characters that may or may not reappear in the story, and around 50 words to describe a character’s clothing, gestures and facial expressions if they did reappear. Secondary characters sometimes required more detail than lesser characters, especially if they were doing something like washing a car or firing a weapon as a chapter opened.

That’s what I learned from studying books that I liked to read. It’s not a formula, but I do use that information as a guideline when I write. Many times, trying to write a good description succinctly has forced me to work harder at using that small block of text to its greatest advantage.

My informal research also turned up the fact that, other than character descriptions, detailed descriptions of setting and action sequences such as gunfights and autopsies could go on for pages. I understand that describing the pathologist’s movements and the tools he uses in dissecting a corpse lends authenticity to the book (and thus, the author), but books I love give me a vivid snapshot without showing me the whole movie. Please stop describing Stryker saws to me every other chapter. I already know more about them than I ever wanted or needed to. There’s that dappled sunlight, again.

I force myself to write description, because although I know what everything looks like, the audience does not. However, I skim or skip overly long, descriptive passages when I read other peoples’ work. Too many novels have more description than story. It’s like wearing full arctic gear in Miami in June.

If you condensed all that narrative, you might wind up with a lovely, highly readable short story or a novella. With the minute details of descriptive passages gone, most readers will conjure up their own visions.

Why don’t authors trust readers to employ their own imaginations anymore? I’d read every word of a book with less description, because it would be jam-packed with the important stuff. The story.

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Nostalgia

Last night, I was thinking about jargon – specifically, newspaper jargon. So much has changed just since I started in the newsroom 30 years ago. Goodness, 30 years ago? My, how time flies!

Well, that’s roughly a generation, isn’t it? I suppose the changes aren’t spectacular when you look at it that way. Still, I don’t like change.

The newspaper where I cut my teeth was using the term “library” when I got there, so I don’t know if they ever called it a morgue. My father, also a journalist, called it that. When I first started at the newspaper, I fully expected to make use of its morgue. But, no, they had a library. I’m still miffed.

Back then, we didn’t have “captions.” Captions were for the slicks (magazines). We wrote cutlines and skel lines to explain what a photo was about. Nobody seems to know what a skel line is anymore, and you rarely hear anyone speak of cutlines. It’s all captions, now. I’m miffed about that, too.

In addition to jargon, other changes in the newspaper world distress me no end. People actually have to pay to have an obituary run in the newspaper. Pardon my French, but what the hell? Obits are news and nobody pays for other types of news in the newspaper. Imagine readers having to pay for a reporter to write up the local city council meeting or take photos of a car crash. I realize the industry is flopping along on the road, trying to catch up with the Internet and avoid total collapse, but I never thought I’d see the day when you had to pay for a regular obit in the newspaper. That’s shameful, if you ask me. You didn’t ask, but there it is. Take it or leave it.

Newspaper jargon is colorful and unique. Or at least, it was. I do see writers still use the word “lede,” though I never much liked that one. I mentioned a “double truck” to an editor a few years ago and she didn’t know what I was talking about.

I’ve already waxed nostalgic over the clacking of typewriters, clatter of the teletypes, thunder of presses and the scent of ink. The latter hasn’t changed, at least. Newspapers still use ink – those that print their own stuff, at least. Some smaller papers farm out the printing rather than buy their own press. That makes good economic sense, but still….

Nope, I don’t like change. Not in most areas, anyway. I have to admit, though, that the ability to blog freely, research broadly, become immersed in social networking sites and get involved in indie publishing is exquisitely exciting.

The Internet has wrought colossal changes in the way freelance and independent writers work and opened up an entire universe of great opportunities. That’s the kind of change I can live with.

Choices

This is the first Wednesday in some time that I have nothing on my must-do list. With nothing that I must do, I can spend my day on something that I want to do. But…which something should I choose?

I want to work on scanning all of my photographs and old family documents to make a permanent, easily transportable record. I plan to copy all of these to a DVD, a thumb drive and a portable hard drive for safekeeping. Should disaster strike and we need to flee, I can grab one of those and take my memories with me.

I also want to go through the zillion scraps of paper currently lurking in the back bedroom – mostly receipts – and get rid of any that are too old for anyone to care about. Especially me. Maybe while doing that, I’ll find some of the documents I put away “in a safe place” that I absolutely cannot find now.

We have new laws governing the paperwork we need to get driver’s licenses and to vote, and all of my documents are in that mystical “safe place.” I have five copies of my birth certificate, and can’t find a blessed one.

There’s also laundry to do, floors to sweep and dust to banish. Oh, and let’s not forget, dogs to bathe. I actually want to do these things, too.

I have several books I want to read, and I want to work on the edits of one of my own books and one of a friend’s.

Still, with all these great choices facing me today, I think I’ll just…write.

Writing pen

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Virtually no one can spell my name (one of the many reasons I hate my name).

I am long past being surprised when people spell my name Lynette instead of Lynnette. Spelling the name with only one N is apparently the norm.

I used to consider it a sign of disrespect if someone did not take the trouble to make sure they spelled my name correctly. I still feel that way, just not about my own name. Spell it any way you want and pronounce it any way you want. If you’re close, I’ll answer to it.

The only spoken form I may not answer to is Ly-NEE-tra. Someone actually used  that in a voicemail and it took me about a day to realize they were trying to pronounce my name.

Feel free to address me as Lynn, or LynSprat (I use that for a lot of online stuff), or you can use the nickname one of the members of the online writing group I joined back in ’93 – Lynt. Handy little moniker, don’t you think? Easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and best of all, everyone seems to enjoy using it in jokes and puns — Scarlynt when I’m being dramatic, Sadlynt, Happilynt, dryerLynt (I can be a mess sometimes). Anyway, unless you copy and paste it, you’re almost certain to leave out the second N in Lynnette.

In real life, I’ve answered to a wide variety of verbal variations: Lynn, Lynt, Lynnette, Annette, Wynette and, for reasons known only to the person who called me this, Lee. If all I hear is “et,” I’ll answer to it.

WordPress has an option for purchasing lynnettespratley.com to use as a domain name. I was waffling over this, because, as I said, most people can’t spell my name correctly. However, I googled myself with one N and found myself with and without the correct spelling. I’ll probably make the switch to lynnettespratley.com soon. If someone misspells it, Google will offer listings with the correct spelling.

Thank God, I gave my only child a name he wouldn’t have to spend half his life spelling: Chris (Christopher). As problems go, though, easily misspelled or mispronounced names aren’t a big deal over a lifetime.

Still, in my next life, I want to be named Pat. Nobody misspells Pat.

Here’s that pesky, elusive second letter N for anytime you want to write my name!