A Hairy Subject

Back to descriptions I go. I was reading something and the writer described the woman’s hair colour. I’m not going to share that because it’s not mine to share. However, I’ve come up with something similar to illuminate: Shiny as the mane of a Paso Fino.

Um no.  For a couple of reasons. One the image that comes to mind is not flattering for a human description, two not everyone knows what a Paso Fino is. It’s a horse, lovely creature but not the best colour comparison out there for an attractive woman.  I get it everyone wants to be super creative, but sometimes I think the over used ‘black as ebony’ or ‘golden as the summer sun’ get a little cliché, overused, or boring if you will.

In my opinion there is nothing wrong with just using the actual hair colour and if you need to make it more interesting pick a hairstyle or make it move.  I went to Wikipedia to pilfer these terms for natural hair colour.

Black 
Natural black 
Deepest brunette
Dark brown
Medium brown 
Lightest brown 
Natural brown 
Light brown 
Chestnut brown 
Light chestnut-brown 
Auburn 
Copper 
Red 
Titian hair (Brown orange/red)
Strawberry blonde 
Dark blonde 
Golden blonde 
Medium blonde 
Light blonde 
Very light blonde 
Grey 
White 

Maybe it’s just me but I find keeping the physical descriptions basic, understandable and relate-able a much better method of visualization than getting grotesquely over creative. I do like to incorporate the description of the person to the environment around them.

Let’s see if I can come up with some examples of over doing it to describe someone’s hair.

Her hair shimmered like the setting sun on the surface of a dark springtime puddle.
I kinda want to stomp on her face for fun…

The strands of hair moved across her neck in the gentle breeze like a field of golden wheat on a summer day. 
She is not an expanse of pre-processed bread ingredient.

His short hair shone in the moonlight like a newly picked soft yellow booger. 
Mmm well, I did that just to be gross, because I can.  😉

See what I mean? The subject matter used to describe can make or break the image. Okay how about I try again.

The light of the setting sun reflected on her dark blonde hair; framing her face in a kaleidoscope of radiant warmth.
Who fingers through that hair now?

Her golden blonde hair brushed softly across her neck from the gentle summer breeze.
Fewer crops and more jaw drops.

His short light blond hair shone in the bright moonlight.
A touch more romantic and a whole lot less gross.

Perhaps it is just me and I prefer a simple approach to how I’m going to imagine a person’s appearance. I do sometimes find too many specifics and flowery over description can trip me up when I’m reading.

For example:

She slowly ran her slender elegant fingers through her long satiny tresses that glittered in the sun like a veil of rubies and garnets. She flicked the alluring molten locks of crimson fire to rest gently behind her shapely curved ivory shoulder, like scorching flames licking a shapely sculpture of fragile porcelain.”

That’s an automatic eye roll for me. The poor woman is burning up in flames. I would much prefer a word-savvy description like this:

“Her slender fingers ran through her long dark red hair slowly. She flicked the Cabernet coloured tresses to rest behind her pale smooth shoulder.”

I would appreciate the small colour reference detail that wasn’t over the top with flowery descriptions.  A simple approach works best IMO.  It’s okay to say someone has dark brown hair without referencing dark chocolate or dark coffee. I don’t mind some creative colour descriptions in moderation and as long they fit the character and situation without giving an odd mental image. There are always exceptions and sometimes a little extra visual reference is good. But not if it’s over the top and over done I can be poetic without being cheesy. If I read

My advice about describing hair colour.
Keep the imagery appropriate and flattering. It’s not a good idea to pester the reader with too much. The only time I might suggest going overboard on a description of hair colour, is if it’s like the bright summer blue of a freshly washed Smurfs back-side. 

-Sheryl

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 Automatic

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Under and over the descriptions we go

Describing things is tricky, too much and it’s boring, too little and it’s boring. Both for opposite reasons, yet they get the same result… boring. As a writer I know I’m capable of much better.

Common scenarios in books like sunsets, the ocean view, a busy city street can easily become under or dramatically over described. The problem is they are common so most people know what a sunset looks like so chances are, no matter how well it’s describe or poorly, the reader is envisioning what they have personally experienced. Unless there is something remarkable, totally uncommon or has never happened before I try not to patronize the reader.

In her apartment after dinner, Amber sat and watched the sunset over the city drinking a cup of tea. The beautiful colours reflecting on the clouds in the sky.
(29)

While accurate it’s boring…
Here’s a little overkill example, while not horrible it is a smidge tedious:

In her apartment after diner, Amber sat deftly on her couch. She carefully pulled up her feet beneath her and she snuggled into the soft comfortable cornflower blue fabric. Holding her hot cup of chamomile tea between her chilled hands, she inhaled the sweet calming aroma deeply. She watched eagerly as the scorching sun began to descend ever so slowly toward the horizon. It cast the hues of soft sunburst orange, delicate summer peaches and fluffy cotton candy pinks upon the once white clouds that dotted the crisp blue summer sky.
(91)

While I’m a fan of describing colour, for something so commonly seen it can be a bit campy.  This is what I might write now that I’ve had time to learn the value of words. It’s not always about the shortest sentence or the most described.

Amber tucked her feet beneath her as she settled onto her comfortable cornflower blue couch. She held the warm mug inhaling the calming aroma of chamomile, her favorite after diner tea. Smiling, she watched the cascading colours of orange, peach and pink play and shift on the clouds.
(48)

Sooo, one if it’s her couch its in her home. I’ve mentioned before she has an apartment, so saying again is overkill. Announcing its after diner is brash IMO so I slipped it in to a better position. it’s also after diner and she’s watching the sunset. While I love a good sunset, I’m not particularity fond of reading long passages about them. I get it, it’s awesome and guess what? I’m not imagining what’s written I’m probably envisioning the last pretty sunset I saw.

It’s a fine balance of making the words and sentences count. Sometimes when I’m on a roll and just need to get the writing down so I don’t forget clever dialogue or the scene I’ll skimp on my word selections. I’m not in denial or delusional I know I sometimes I get too wordy and need to dial it back. The thing is I try to remind myself to show the scene and not tell it or list it off like a shopping list.

My advice about too little and too much description.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Read it out loud. If you get bored reading it out loud or you gasp for breath to get through (Dramatic I know) chances are you can simplify and beautify the sentence or paragraph by rearranging a word or two… or twenty.

-Sheryl

Other wordy posts

It’s really very unnecessary

Redundantly Redundant Redundancies

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Capable

Denial

(Insert description here)

There are times when I’m writing and I’m totally in the groove. I’m in the moment, writing and it’s moving along well then I have a scene that needs detailed description that I know will not only slow me down, but possibly derail my thought train.  I have a conundrum. I don’t want to stop to describe the walls or carpet,. I want to write, so I’ll plop an (Insert description here) and keep going.

This is totally okay. In fact, I heartily encourage this from my own experience. Here are a few reasons why leaving descriptions until later is a good choice for me.

  • Story flow and ideas will be stifled by slowing down to describe Sasha’s haircut and colour
  • The juices are flowing and describing the apartment will cause the events to slip away
  • I’m not overly familiar with how a police officer’s office might look and it requires research or a bit more time to imagine it correctly
  • I haven’t decided exactly how the office layout will be, so I let it go for now.
  • I know an outside distraction could occur any moment, I need to get my ideas down, and descriptions can wait.
  • When I need to consult a map and that’s time consuming

Part of the reason I do this is not to interrupt my creativity the other part is that I want scenarios, descriptions to be perfect, and a part of the story not a separate entity. Sometimes I need to write the scene before I can determine exactly where they are. I have even changed the location of a confrontation or dialogue solely because what I first imagined wasn’t quite good enough.

Things I’ll describe later because I’m in the groove.

A person’s appearance (Less is more IMO)

The setting for a scene

A building

An object of fascination or use

A place I’m not familiar with and requires research

A task or job I need to research further

An object that I’m not familiar with or it’s use

A food/drink I haven’t had before, so need to try before writing about it.

The point is that I often find myself wanting to write the story and not stop to focus on the little things that make the story savory. I can add them later or during revision as long as I leave myself a reminder.

My advice about Place markers.
They can be helpful. I do however recommend making them stand out by highlighting them in some way.

-Sheryl

Other posts

Silliness and seriousness

Negative or positive

It’s really very unnecessary

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Conundrum

Details, details, details

A book or story is full of details. A persons description, their back story, their habits and their environment. I’m talking about environment or setting if you prefer.

Now I could go into a long spiel about describing objects or the area around the characters, the in’s and outs of under and over describing things. Or how to make an object important like in the Fab pencil.  That’s not what this is about.

I like details, the little things that make the reader comfortable whether they are aware or not. My book takes place primarily in one location. This location is set up in a very specific way for a very important reason. Function. In future stories this facility is revisited and I can’t have it changing unexpectedly.

So I carefully mapped it out. Just like a world map of a made up place like middle earth, but instead it’s a map of the building. It’s detailed right down to maintenance rooms and off limit areas. The placement of rooms and areas is important to the interaction of the characters and for situations that happen in future books. They are not major events per say, but they are purposeful.

I’ll be honest, I made a simple mock-up using Lego to start. It was perfect for scale and to get a real feel for the actual space. (Lego rocks.) I then used a basic publishing program to draw it out in overhead 2D or a blueprint if you want to get technical. It was a long process but it helped me get a solid feel for the building layout. It also allowed me to give my readers a very clear image for their imagination.

This was important for me. At first I wrote from memory, what I imagined it to look like. Then I revised and found them walking through a door that would lead them into the showers not the cafeteria. Oops. While it might not be noticeable it might register as odd and ruin the mental imagery for the reader.

Every environment or setting gets a map of some sort. Not to necessarily be published with the book, but for me to make sure that the window in the living room stays on an outside wall and not opening to the bathroom by oversight. I have to be careful, nobody wants to see Joe go pee while watching the price is right.

My advice about using maps.
I highly recommend them, even if its a rough hand drawn sketch of Sasha’s house, if a scene takes place there and I want to go back later I’d rather refer to the map instead of flipping back chapters to find where the refrigerator is and if it opens left handed or right.

-Sheryl

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Switch it up, and swap it out.

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Careful

The FAB pencil

What’s so FAB about it? It’s just a lame pencil.

Or is it? I have gone through some nifty retail sales training. You know the kind that teaches you to sell your soul to the devil to make the sale. Up-sell, up-sell, up-sell.

I no longer wonder how they do it, how they smoothly transition you from buying the watch to including the warranty, the battery replacement program, the matching belt and shiny new car. I don’t wonder, because I know.

FAB Feature Advantage Benefit. Oddly, this applies nicely to describing something in writing. The lesson is to take an ordinary item say… a super lame ordinary No.2 pencil and show the customer something they can see, touch or smell about it. Then explain the advantage of the feature and smoothly move into how it benefits the customer.

The feature: it has No.2 lead
The advantage: No.2 writes smoothly
The benefit: consistent writing

Feature: built-in eraser
Advantage: erases efficiently
Benefit: saves time having to search for an eraser

F: seamless wood design
A: easy to sharpen
B: no slivers or sharp bits

F: bright yellow paint
A: easy to see
B: hard to lose

These things seem obvious right? Maybe, but now they are clearly stuck in your head. How does this apply to describing items in a story? If you give a purpose to an item then it makes sense. If it’s horribly random then its distracting to the reader. If anything, it will help give an object depth. Even a yawn worthy pencil. I do this with items my characters interact with that are important or interesting.

Sasha plopped the yellow pencil’s end in her mouth. Scrunching her face she removed it instantly. The rubbed-rubber taste reminding her of the party she went to instead of studying. She set the flattened tip to the paper to mark her answer. Only to rub it out second-guessing herself again.

Sasha jumped when the bell rang. She stared wide-eyed at the paper, a test failed before it was marked. Less than half the questions answered. Gripping the pencil in her hands, she tightened her grip, snapping the light wood easily.

My advice about describing things.
Instead of just blurting out what it is with a standard ‘it’s blue’ description, dig deeper and see what it has to offer the user then the interaction between the object and user is more fluid. Be cautious that you don’t go overboard describing an item to the point of excess. Less is more.

-Sheryl

 

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More is less, and vice versa.

It’s funny you said that…

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Obvious

Plop