Monday, August 4, 2008

So Many Stories, So Few Words

In traveling across the country this summer, I was more aware than ever about the millions of stories of the people who settled this amazing land, from the sad stories of the little babies who never made it to their first year to the stories of those who lived to a ripe old toothless age still hauling water and fighting to protect whatever property they were able to scrape together. I want to get some of these stories down on paper but am often stymied by the challenge of making the material attractive to today's young readers. Again and again I go back and work on "action" verbs and active situations, cutting out descriptive passages in favor of what will "draw in" the reader. And yet...I personally love good descriptive writing.


  1. Writing is a balancing act. Putting in just the right amount of truth, blended with right amount of compulsion, dialogue verses narration, action verses description. I, too, enjoy descriptive writing. But when the story is compelling, I don't want to wade through a paragraph of description. I want action! Linda, your descriptions are wonderful. You are able to put a reader right in the time and place of the story. It is all a matter of finding the right balance. Easier said than done.

  2. I'm a fan of description, but agree it's a balancing act. There are times I know I'm writing the description just for me to get a sense of where I want the story to be, then there's description that is necessary to put your reader into the story. It is a fine line.

    Books on writing are no help either. Some favor sparse description to allow the reader to be part of the creation, and others say the more details the more authentic the story.

    It's enough to make you want to tear your hair out.

  3. Now here's a coincidence! While we were in Maine on vacation, I happened to read the introduction to Look Homeward, Angel and copied out this quote from Thomas Wolfe because I thought it was interesting:

    "Fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with a purpose."

    Some readers would say Wolfe's "purpose" was a little long-winded and not charged enough!

  4. And remember, so much depends on the age group you write for. Some writers pen gorgeous, lush, highly descriptive, adult literary fiction that just can't work for middle grade. That's one of the reasons writing for kids can be more difficult that writing adult fiction. You have to tell the complete story with fewer words.

  5. I agree with Judy. I think it really depends on who your intended audience is. You could write the same story multiple ways depending on who you want your readers to be. That's one of the toughest parts of writing! There are so many decisions to make.

    Interestingly enough, Linda, as you're struggling with writing short, I'm struggling with writing long. I've gotten my writing voice so sparse for picture books and chapter books that the idea of writing enough words for an entire middle grade novel is pretty terrifying.