...because fiction is our greatest escape from reality...

A Favorite Re-Posted

This was one of the first posts on my Blogger blog.  Thought it would be fun to visit again with all the new readers.  And wow, the numbers have been up lately.  Welcome!  And since there are so many, how about a collective get well wish for my cat, Saber?  He’s been lethargic and ill looking for two days and has a huge lump on his side.  He’s seeing a vet in the morning, but I hate to watch him suffer tonight. 


Keep It Simple, Keep It Real

When using description, I had to teach myself not to overdo the details. It was a long, hard lesson, but I learned. A few simple, well descriptive words can make all the difference. Here’s an example from one of my short stories.

Her Ma’man murmured of ghost summers when the heat became a living thing that clogged the throat and sat upon the skin like wet spirits. In the deepest part of the season, restless souls crept from the otherworld, drawn by the waves of misery.

“Ghost summer” sets the mood, gives you an idea about the kind of story you’re reading. “Clogged the throat and sat upon the skin” makes the heat real and anyone who has lived in the south knows that heat isn’t just there, it lives– exists to make your life miserable. Don’t just say it’s hot, make us feel it.

When trying to make a person real, you can use blonde, six-foot three, green eyes. Yeah, okay, but only if you’re giving a police report. Do you want to write the kind of book that sits on a night stand as a ready sleep injection?

So, let’s try again.

Frank stood six foot-three. He had hair the color of the sun and eyes like wet moss.

Maybe a tiny bit better, but so cliched you’re going to gag any editor who reads it. I kind of like wet moss, but what’s missing?

Emotion. If you aren’t feeling something you might as well be reading an insurance contract.

Take it from me, Frank doesn’t want to be the guy who puts you to sleep. Maybe, just maybe, he wants to be the guy who causes you to flip on the night light.

Let’s try it with some emotion and a little setting this time.

They kept the psych drugs in the top of the tall, locked cabinet. Frank didn’t need a key , nor did he have to stretch to pluck them right off the shelf. He’d colored his hair yellow to match the doctor’s, but it hadn’t been necessary. The staff never looked twice, so caught up in their own pointless lives, Bundy himself could have walked past and they wouldn’t notice.

Granted, with the power out, they had their hands full. It had been a genius move, he had to admit. One his father might have pulled.

Frank caught his reflection in the mirror behind the doctor’s desk.

His gut twisted before he remembered they weren’t his father’s dead, green eyes that stared back at him.


  1. February 23, 2008    

    Wishing you the best, dear Saber. From that photo, you look a lot like my Manny: http://flickr.com/photos/tezmilleroz/

    Have a lovely day! 🙂

  2. February 23, 2008    

    He does look a lot like Manny. I should post more pics–my daughter takes a lot of them.

    And I’m nuts about him. I keep checking him to make sure he’s breathing. He’s so still. He’s going to fight the vet trip because he’s in a lot of pain. If we touch the lump, he hisses and snaps. I think it’s some sort of infection.

    Sorry. Can you tell I’m worried?

  3. February 23, 2008    

    Oh and thanks to your review, I ordered Happy Hour of the Damned and it came in today. I can’t wait to read it!

  4. February 23, 2008    

    Your Saber is so cute. I love cats. Whenever I see one I can barely stop myself from taking it with me and pet it. They have so slick coats and when they purr, heavenly. Too bad all of my family are dog people and we have a dog and no cat, but I hope.

    And the post is great too. I discovered recently that I overdue description and now I am going for the economy of words approach. I loved the summer description. It made me feel hot.

  5. February 23, 2008    

    I am so sorry. 🙁 I hope Saber is feeling better soon.

  6. February 24, 2008    

    Harry, one one of the best chapters on description is in Stephen King’s On Writing. He shows you how to narrow the focus and get setting in the small details.

    Over describing will send a reader down to white space faster than anything. 🙂

  7. February 24, 2008    

    I really want to buy that book! Seriously. As much as like describing it doesn’t have to end in purple prose. Thank you for the recommendation. The more people that say that really makes me want to buy the book.

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