Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website.
We missed you last week! Stephanie and I were both speakers and mentors at the One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop in Olathe, Kansas. It's one of the highlights of my summer, and I'm always thrilled to be invited back. This year I taught five workshops and did a lot of mentor appointments. I taught some workshops that might be familiar to you such as writing great villains or creating fantasy creatures. In that last class, we created a beast as a group. It was called the wrok. It's a round, camouflaging mammal that has retractable limbs, razor-sharp teeth, skin like an armadillo, no eyes, and leaves a trail of sticky, poisonous drool in its wake. They travel in herds much like rolling pool balls, and they mate stacked up like a snowman. Here are some pictures drawn by some of the workshop attendees. I think the wrok works.
Below are some more pictures from the week. I always love seeing all the cosplay. I got to take a peek inside the wardrobe on stage, meet a girl with a crocheted Toothless, and was given a "Trust the Owl" T-shirt from Hannah McManus, who painted it for me. I love it! Thanks again, Hannah!
I also taught a workshop on description, and since a lot of that was new material for me, I've decided to do a four-part series here on the blog on description. We'll start today with the very end of my workshop, which was a list of 10 tips for tight descriptions. Then in the upcoming weeks, we'll go into some of these topics in depth.
1. Don’t stress over description until edits.
I rarely describe anything when writing my first draft. It's always my goal to write as fast as I can to get that first draft done. Description slows me down. It makes me stop and think. And when I'm writing a first draft, I don't want to stop and think. I want to write as fast as possible. So I give myself permission to ignore description. If some sneaks out quickly without slowing me down, it gets to stay. But the majority of my description happens during rewrites.
2. Give description when it is necessary.
If you have an important location in your story, you need to describe it. If your main character is holding a magical object of great importance, you need to describe it. If your character is crossing the street and waits for a car to pass by, you don't need to describe it---unless that is important to the story. Only you know what is important and what isn't. Since description often takes a lot of words, make sure that you are spending your words on things that matter.
3. Make description serve at least two purposes.
Whenever possible, make your description do multiple things. Perhaps it describes and characterizes. Or describes and shows emotion. Or it describes and gives a clue. You don't have to do this every time, but when you do, you will add depth to your story.
4. Keep description active and moving.
Pacing is important in storytelling. You want to be careful not to stop moving every time you describe something. Now, if your character pauses at the top of a staircase, looks over the banister, and describes the scene below, then it's okay to give a static description. But more often than not, try to keep moving while you describe. Maybe your character is running. Maybe he is looking for something, so you can describe the desk, dresser, and closet as he ransacks the place. Perhaps your character is getting a tour of a building. Maybe he is driving through town. No matter what, try to make sure that your description fits to pacing of the scene. If things are happening quickly, give us a quick description. A long description fits better in a slower scene.
5. Make description memorable.
Give us fewer words that are more specific. Words that will stick in our memory. A room coated in dust that makes the character sneeze. We will remember that room. An apartment that is filled with so much trash that your character's foot sticks to something on the floor. Eww. The reader won't forget that. Looks for simple ways to describe things that readers will remember.
6. When describing, choose specific words.
Choose words that tell the reader as much as possible. Words that provide memorable details that the reader can picture in his mind. Like leather the color of cinnamon rather than brown. Slimy rags rather than merely wet ones.
7. When describing, use the five senses.
Space them out, but try to use each one at least once per chapter, maybe more depending on how long your chapters are. Writers tend to describe lots of what the characters can see and forget to mention smell, sound, taste, and touch. Be sure to add these in when it feels natural.
8. Description should fit the POV character’s voice, personality, etc.
Are you describing the scene through the eyes, voice, and personality of your main character? Use words he would use. Focus on things that interest him. Don't use words he wouldn't know. Spencer from my Mission League books would say that a doctor "took his blood pressure," while Mason from my Safe Lands books would say "the doctor used the sphygmomanometer to measure his blood pressure." Spencer would NEVER IN HIS LIFE remember a word as long as sphygmomanometer. He just wouldn't care.
9. Description should convey emotion.
When possible and natural, work emotion into your descriptions through your point of view character. How is your character feeling? Jealous? Happy? Angry? These feelings might affect the way he sees things as he moves through the scene. What if he is describing a person he likes vs. one he hates or is mad at or has a crush on? These things should have an impact on your character's word choice.
10. Description should leave room for the imagination.
You don't have to describe everything. Leave some room for your reader's imagination to create the characters and places in his or her mind. That's part of the fun of reading. If you describe too much, your reader will get annoyed. Description is a fine balance that takes a lot of hard work and tweaking during edits to get just right. Any questions about description? What comes easiest to you when describing things? What is hardest? Share in the comments.
One other thing that happened at this year's OYAN conference was that I gave the OYANers a first look at the book cover for my upcoming epic fantasy novel King's Folly. It was fun to reveal it in front of a live audience. If you haven't seen it floating around cyberspace, here it is. What do you think? To learn more about King's Folly and when it releases, click here.