Happy Spring Day, Dark Dreamers,
“I have always maintained that if you looked closely enough you could see the wind—the dim, hardly-made-out, fine debris fleeing high in the air.” Stewart Edward White painted this lovely concept in his book The Mountains. I have loved this light and movement filled portrayal. As I tell my students all the time, write your soul so your audience feels it. That’s what descriptions are. In dark urban fantasy, that’s doubly important as you may be describing a creature no one has met, such as vampires, scions, shifters or ghosts, or an action no audience member has ever, hopefully, experienced, such as having their blood slowly drained from their body or the shifting of their bones and muscles as they become an animal. What senses will engage the most to share the event with the reader? When does detail and description become too much?
But as we’ve discussed here before, very rarely will we hit the artificial obvious images perfectly the first time on the first draft. Try as we may, we have to collect that sand first, before making the castle of our masterpiece. We need to revise and clean and shape until our blood splatters just so, and a kiss captures just the right breath, and the monster’s eyes are just the right shade of hate. If we can’t see it, they won’t feel it. But something happens when we see the wind, we forget to write the world it flows in.
What I mean by this is often as writers we can get so fixated on describing the details of the scene, we often simply assume our readers can see the rest of the world as clearly as we can. This doesn’t just limit itself to the physical description of a place or a person, but also the internal workings of characters as well. Why is a character reacting or feeling? What clues can we give our audience? The importance here is our readers often will empathize with our characters if they can believe and feel their motivations and emotions. But that has to be there. On both physical and emotional cues, and that can be hard for an author to spot the lack of both in drafting and revising.
We always see the wind, because we are so intimate with the voices in our heads and the story we’re stitching. We love our baby masterpiece in the making. It’s hard to see their faults or the missing gaps in our writing because our brain autocorrects not only our grammar when we read it, but also the continuity and motivational gaps since it already knows that whether it’s on the paper or not. We see the wind because we gave it life, but often it stays in our eyes and our heads and never makes it to the paper. Our poor audiences, not being psychic and all, has no idea what’s left in our head and is at the mercy of the scraps thrown onto the paper.
This is true not only for fiction writing but also academic writing for my students, memo writing in the office, proposal writing for the government. Writing is writing, for ill or for good. And the best resource stay true for every one of them: other people. People will cheerlead you when you are dragging, kick you in the butt when you need it and be an extra set of eyes and brain for your words. Once they can describe the wind the way you can, then you know you really have something.
I love my critique group who does all of the above for me. They workshop everything from a barely formed idea to a fully written scene. But my best secret weapon is my husband, who is also a writer. We try to perfect each other’s work and point out when the wind is a bit lacking. Recently a local reporter wrote about how we put this idea to use. Here’s a link to that article: Frederick News Post Article
So, my question to you, Dark Dreamers, is who or what is your secret weapon to make you better in what you do?