Have you ever found a new thing in fiction and just latched on like a virus looking for warmth? I hope the movie Pacific Rim came to mind when you read that. The movie blew your mind, and you walked out picturing whole alternate universes of other fiction favorites, only now with giant robots. Drawing might be a little out of your reach, probably being limited to careful and squiggly stick figures. My stick figures are works of art, if you ask me. It’s hard to convey meaning with them, and stick figure robots don’t look too epic.
Hey don’t despair, anyone can write, you figure. Why, that’s what your totally legitimate copy of Microsoft Word is for! Assuming you don’t have a computer, there's those things, p-paper and, uh, pencil? I’m not sure what those are anymore, but I’m told they can be used for writing. So you set off to give life to your Sherlock fan-fiction set in the Pacific Rim world, but nothing seems to be gluing together. You re-read a paragraph and knowing you can go back an edit it, it just doesn’t seem to come to life.
This is a three-part column, dedicated to giving you budding writers a solid ground with which to start with. Practicing can improve your style, but just think of all those dramatic and slightly sexual scenes between Holmes and Watson you’ll be able to write soon (while they pilot a Jaeger no less). For this part, we’ll focus on description and your new best friend, a Thesaurus. Take this following example to start with:
“I’m not sure what to do with my life anymore,” Raleigh said to Mako Mori, feeling confused. He felt distraught at the thought of never piloting a giant robot again.
No, that doesn’t read very badly at all. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it either, or else your eyes would be bleeding. It’s lacking though, isn’t it? How can we turn that into something with a bit more glitter and shine? Read this example:
“I’m not sure what to do with my life anymore,” Raleigh said to Mako Mori. Somehow, with the kaiju gone now, it felt like his life had no purpose or direction anymore. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be at all, not with his whole life ahead of him. Instead of celebrating, he found himself questioning his own existence. How could it be so tightly wound to a giant war robot?
Besides being longer, the difference between the first example and the second one is a pillar of creative writing– telling versus showing. Let’s say:
Marshall hit the jackpot and won a shiny-new, red sports car. He called his friend Ted, “I won a new red car!” Telling his best friend isn’t going to cut it. O.K., now let’s take a look at this version below:
Marshall hit the jackpot and won a new, sports car. He sped down the highway, out the exit, in-and-out a few roads. Then screeches to a halt in front of his friend’s house. Ted, his friend, looked out the window and gawked at Monty, who waved back at him. He went out and both stroked the shiny paint of the crimson car. That has more impact than just calling and telling them the car is red.
When you write, you have to constantly strive to achieve that same effect of showing with words. In the first example, the reader is told that Raleigh is confused and distraught. That’s not going to hook anyone though. By contrast, the second example weaves you through Raleigh’s thoughts and consciousness. Instead of just stating what he’s feeling, you describe the mess that’s in his head. This is much more compelling than simply stating facts, and is crucial to giving readers an idea of who the characters are.
Let’s take a look at this next example:
Sherlock suspected something was wrong. His deductions were nearly always right, after all. Watson also suspected the same thing; though he lacked Sherlock’s deduction skills, his suspicions could also prove to at least point Sherlock’s deductions in the right direction.
This is also fine at first glance, yet at second glance there’s something slightly nagging in the background. It’s like a woodpecker pecking in the same spot, over and over again at 10 AM on a Sunday morning, like the lazy good-for-nothings they are. While it’s true that language can only give so many synonyms for the same thing, cycling between the same two words will leave readers bored and wandering elsewhere. Here’s where your BFF the Thesaurus, and a little showing come to the rescue. Try this version:
Sherlock suspected something was wrong. After all, his skills in deduction were nearly unmatched, and he was hardly wrong, something he occasionally hated. Watson had similar misgivings himself. Though perhaps not as deft at making inferences as his companion, Watson’s uncertainty nearly always pointed Sherlock’s notions in the right direction, as well as providing invaluable information.
Now, instead of a woodpecker that won’t get a job, you have a paragraph that uses similar words for the same thing. Readers are less likely to get bored, and now you’re a respectable badger, with a full time job and a home.
As with anything though, take it all in baby steps. Practice a little each day, keep a journal (a Tumblr for you hip kids or whatever you’re using), recount everyday happenings, and make them into small snippets. Always revise! Just like that extra shot of rum, what seems like a good idea now might just become a pang of regret in a day or three.