2011 Winter Fiction Panel discussion

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Thursday: Description

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message 1: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Brown | 11 comments Mod
Teresa, in the Suggest a Topic thread, had a lovely post that I thought would make for good conversation:

"2628903 My comment is about description. I LOVE the descriptions in Susan Minot's Folly. The reader could taste, touch, feel, and smell the surroundings in that book. I really felt as if I were in an upper class Boston home of the 1910's. And as I read, I *saw* and *felt* an "antiquy" kind of glow as the story progressed. My question is--how difficult was it to recreate a time and place so far removed from the present, and yet make it feel real to the reader? Did you visit historical residences, research food, clothing, etc.? And did this type of writing require (many) rewrites? Description is currently what I have the most trouble with when writing."

How do you deal with place in your work? Have you ever written about a place you'd never been and if so, how did you do it? How important is the visualization of setting to your writing?

Members: feel free to include your follow up questions in the thread.


message 2: by Susan (new)

Susan Straight | 6 comments Cool - I'm not late this time! Maybe...
Description is my favorite part of writing, along with dialogue. I always write too much description, because I love recreating the way a field looks, or a tree, or a person riding in a particular car. Unfortunately, and this is something I tell my students, and admit to them that I do all the time, often our lush or strange descriptions overpower the actual story. So I always remember my second editor saying, Hey, great description of those cars, and I love the way the men are talking in the driveway, and talking, and talking. Now please make them get in the damn car and go do something! SOMETHING! Buy something or shoot somebody or go somewhere!
Yeah.
But the metaphors, the imagery, remain my favorite part of reading, and writing. Toni Morrison to Ross MacDonald - I love metaphor and simile and detail.


message 3: by Mary (new)

Mary (glickman) | 16 comments Love it, Susan. Do all prose writers start out as poets? I've had to kill the urge to get stuck in description too. But there's something thoroughly engrossing about describing all the sensual aspects of what's presented itself in one's mind, whether the reader needs to hear them or not! In my mind, though, every tool in the box needs to be used to advance plot or deepen character or its filler. Setting is one of the handiest tools around but only the most refined wordsmiths can get away with pages of description without fear of losing their story in the details. If I'm going to get profligate with description, it's usually in describing a character although I always admire writers who can provide a vivid picture in a few brief strokes.


message 4: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Alther | 12 comments My settings are imaginary, but they begin as real places I know well. Then I embellish, adapting them to my own fictional purposes. But I try to give just enough details so that a scene starts to form in the reader's mind, and then I stop, hoping the reader will participate by completing the picture in his or her own way. This is what I seem to do when I read other people's work, and it's why I usually don't like movies made from books, preferring my own mental images to those of a director.


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