Sunday, October 11, 2009

Overcoming your limitations in writing

How do you overcome your limitations in writing?

I've mentioned before on this blog that I have a lousy visual memory. N corrected me once on the color of our house. (I assumed it had white siding, but it apparently was a sort of tan or something.) I didn't know the color of my own mother's eyes once. Apparently, they are blue. I only remember this because I remember the conversation. I mentioned once how I didn't know anyone with blue eyes with my mother there and she said, "well, perhaps me." I couldn't tell you if my wife has a big nose or a small nose, even though we've been together for 19 years now. If a sketch artist started placing different noses on her face, I would know if it's right or not. I just can't take the nose off of her face and stick it mentally next to some other nose and make a decision. Unless it's Pinochio or Cyrano.

And so, when I'm reading fiction, I often start to skim when I get to those big paragraphs describing the room or the person's clothes. I have an interest in women, I assume from this whole heterosexuality thing I've got going, so I sometimes do care what a woman looks like in a book, but I don't particularly care about everyone else, and I often actually forget the physical description of the female characters as well. If the monster has pointed ears or flat ones? Whatever. It's a monster. That's all I need to know.

I'm currently reading Kate Elliot's Spirit Gate and the color of hair is only important on one woman, a slave named Cornflower. She has blonde hair and is viewed as an object of desire and possibly a demon by others. But the much larger character of Mai, a major POV character and heroine in the novel, well, I can clearly infer she's not blonde, but otherwise, I've totally forgotten, and it really makes no difference to the plot what her hair color is. People react to her as beautiful, so I know she is. But I have no image of her in my head at all.

Largely, I just don't care. Descriptions for the visual senses are not part of the enjoyable experience for me, like a good one-liner is.

And yet, I know many other people do care. It's these detailed descriptions of sight that brings the character and world to life. I think it ties into the way people find different arts appealing. For some, the structures of music are just not all that interesting. For me, that's definitely the most fascinating of all the arts. Others can stare at a painting for half an hour. I can easily put on headphones and disappear into music for an hour, but a painting? Not so much.

How do you compensate for your own weaknesses in writing? Someone once told me she maintains a five senses check list. I haven't written anything in a couple years now, but the last few times I did, I would draft with whatever came to mind, which is always dialogue, emotions, and wit. Then I'd go back in the revisions and continuously look for places I could satisfy the other senses and add something in. Are there places where a normal person would want to visualize more? Should there be a sense of smell here? I think it did help.

Are there things that you know are important that you just don't do naturally? How do you overcome it?


McKoala said...

Hee hee, I think that was me! I love my senses.

So, based on that one lunch and your memories...what do I look like, then?

No cheating either by checking my actual photo, or by describing a Koala...

bunnygirl said...

Interesting post.

I don't spend a lot of time on descriptions in my writing, mainly because I don't want to take away from the things that matter, like...oh, plot, dialogue, and internal characterization.

If a person's ears or height are important to the story, I mention them. Ditto if it's a particular tree or sofa. But generally speaking, I prefer to let the reader form their own image in their mind, since it's my own reading preference as well.

When Maelstrom got picked up by a publisher, the first thing they told me was insert more character descriptions. *very big sigh* As I read the proofs, guess which parts make me squirm?

What's wrong with leaving some things to the imagination?