Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Discussion Week Day 3: The Hard Bits

First, a slight diversion from Discussion Week to say that I saw CRASH last night...and OMG, if you haven't seen it go run out and rent it now. I didn't think I'd like it too much, as I tend to be self-protective when it comes to movies. I purposely shelter myself a little and don't seek out war movies, violent movies, etc. However. {ahem} This movie blew my socks off. It messed with all my preconceptions, fascinated me, and dragged me into the storyline(s). It reminded me of things that I know, but forget: the fragility of life; the dramatic effects we have on each other with our smallest actions, even without knowing; the knowledge that you don't have any idea what that person's life is like just because of their appearance; the unexpectedness of even our own behavior; the fact that no one and nothing is simple. Go see it.

Hokay, back to Discussion. (And c'mon, join in! I'm very happy with those who responded, yay, but it was 4 of you out of the 40+ who came here yesterday. More! More!)

Today I've got two different branches of question, one for writers and one for readers. Feel free to answer one or both.

Writers: What is THE hardest type of writing for you? Dialogue? Description? Transitions? Action?

Readers: What is your least favorite type of writing to read? Do you skip over descriptions? Scan through dialogue? Flip through the fight scene until you get to the dialogue? Or do you even notice those things? (hopefully if the writing's good, you don't. What if it's not? What bugs you?)

I'll answer both.

In writing, it's love scenes that kill me. Not sex scenes necessarily, just the romantic stuff, the parts that are supposed to make the reader feel the love between these characters. They always turn out dopey and sappy the first time I write them. Then I strip out all the sappy stuff, and they're just bare-bones and boring. It's only on the millionth pass--trying to add humor, unique personal references, balance--that I have any sort of satisfaction with them at all, and they're still my least favorite scenes to read (of my own stuff). Guess I need to practice those more!

In reading, I've always skipped right over long descriptive passages, particularly of landscapes. I have no head for directions--never have--and I very, very quickly get lost with somebody's description of "at the top of the hill there was this, with a blah to the east and a river running blah". I don't care. Tell me there was a hill and a river, and I don't need to know how, precisely, they were situated. In fact I do better in reading if you don't tell me those things, because then I have leeway to paint them in myself, which I prefer, or just keep them vague and get to the action/dialogue. Horrible thing for a historical fiction writer to admit, huh? I've gotten much better at adding description into my own work with practice, but I do make sure to always break it up with Other Stuff so people don't skip. And I don't think you'll ever find a description of what's to the east and what's to the west. {g}

Okay, you next. Writers? Readers? Both?

(you'll notice I'm skipping the Medieval Word of the Day; that's just for this week. It'll be back on Monday)

34 comments:

Cindy said...

Me first, again??

All right. Right now I'm struggling with lots of things, but the biggest is probably human interaction, or rather, the description of it. I know how the mother and her daughter feel about each other, and how that's reflected in expression and gesture. It's getting it across the way I want to that's been frustrating.

I hate long, unnecessary descriptions, like you.

Tess said...

As a writer I skip the actual love scenes (I write historical romance) and leave them till last, UNLESS they happen spontaneously while I'm writing a scene between the hero and heroine (this happened in my third ms). Normally, though, I find those scenes difficult to write.

As a reader I'll skip battle scenes and yes, you guessed it, love scenes. And long descriptive passages that aren't done well. Some I can lose myself in, but others, well, I just flip the page.

Great blog, btw - I found it through Reading the Past :-)

Susan Adrian said...

Cindy:

You are a leader; you are always first.

Interaction is hard, particularly when relationships are so very complicated. It's also what keeps me there as a reader, though, so a good thing to keep hammering on to get it just right.

Susan Adrian said...

Tess:

Yay, another one with love-scene trouble! You can skip mine and I'll skip yours. {g}

I forgot; I skip battle scenes often too. Heck, much of the time they're just long convoluted descriptions anyway.

Monica said...

This is an easy one. As a writer its action scenes, all that choreography and making it flow well is very very hard for me, along these lines is the dreaded sex scene for the same reason.
As a reader its great huge expanses of anything not broken up a bit by something else, whether it be dialogue broke up by description or vice-versa.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan!!!

(See, I'm trying to pop in more.)>g< Action scenes. The choreography gets me tongue-tied...or should I say....twisted finger syndrome? When it's bad, I imagine I'm turning my battle scenes into a medieval Twister game. Not good. >g<
Rhonddalyn

Julie said...

I’ll answer both as well, as I can’t, in clear conscience, call myself one or the other!

As a reader I have a very difficult time with in-depth description. A little is nice, but there are some books I’ve read that have no action for two pages; just a description of the scenery. It was very tedious, and I went right over it. Give me dialogue any day. ;)

As a writer I have a problem with balancing everything that you mentioned. How do I write a scene to where it is not rushed, but not over-done with tons of description that people like me will just skim? As I’m writing this, I’m realizing the problem I have is pacing the story.

-Julie

Susan Adrian said...

Monica:

Oh, yeah. Action scenes are so tricky to get right--particularly if they're fight or battle scenes. Still easier for me than love scenes, though. {s}

And good point: balance! My mantra.

Susan Adrian said...

Rhonddalyn!! Hey, girl!!

Action for you too, huh? Nope, Twister is not necessarily a good thing. Well, maybe for contemp. romance, but not historicals. {g}

Susan Adrian said...

Julie:

I'm sensing a theme here with the overlong description! Writers, take note.

And yes, balance is a key. That's something that gets easier with practice, though...and lots of reading to see how the masters do it.

Precie said...

As a writer, I have a hard time writing tragic events...sudden deaths, painful losses. There's a massive car accident in my current WIP, but so far it's entirely off-stage. In part, that's because what's important is how one of my MC's is affected by the news (of her lost loved ones). But it's also because it already seems so painful.

As a reader, data dumps. I can read long, in-depth description of scenery or character (see my favorite novelist), but ultimately the description has to serve a purpose beyond direct observation.

Susan Adrian said...

Precie:

Hmmm, now that's interesting. I like writing the tragic events. They make me cry, mind you, but they usually flow very easily. I wonder what on earth THAT means? {g}

Do you think you will write the car crash scene, just for yourself? Or will it stay off-stage?

Data dumps are universally hated!

Sarah said...

Ditto to all the comments on overlong descriptions! If I pick up a book at the bookstore and see many lengthy descriptive passages and next to no dialogue, I suspect I probably won't enjoy it. On the other hand, some novels written this way have surprised me, so I won't say it's an absolute. I also skim and/or skip lengthy battle scenes, so count another vote for that :)

Precie said...

Susan--
I think my reluctance points to my unwillingness to face tragedy and death in real life. I haven't decided yet about the car crash. I mean, I'm writing a "news broadcast" version, but I doubt I'll write anything from the perspective of the victims or witnesses.

Monica said...

susan:
Balance is also my mantra and one of the reasons I fiddle around with scenes so much.

I will put off action scenes until the guilt gets to be to much and then I muddle and suffer through and dither for ages before I'm ever even somewhat satisfied with it.

Anonymous said...

Susan,

Well, as a writer I have a hard time with descriptions. Dialogue is a breeze for me because I can usually hear what the characters say. Now if I could just write an entire book in dialogue. . .(Hmmm, didn't C.S. Lewis kinda do that in The Screwtape Letters?)

As a reader, I skip over info-dumps and _usually_ description--unless it's incredible beautiful. That will stop me.

Kreek

Susan Adrian said...

Precie:

Who does face tragedy and death in real life? Well, I mean. The prospect scares the hell out of me, as it should. I'm thinking maybe it's therapy to make it happen to other people in a fictional setting...

In your case I'd be tempted to write the car crash from the POV of a victim--for my eyes only. Sometimes when I do that the emotion I put into it filters through into the other, "visible" scenes. But it would be hard!

Susan Adrian said...

Monica:

We'll talk about Life Balance on Friday, though really everything is about balance. Balancing scenes, tension, dialogue/description, everything...

Susan Adrian said...

Sarah:

It's funny, isn't it, that some writers can get away with the long descriptions? Very few, for me, but I can almost swallow it when it's part of the convention and/or style, like in 18th or 19th century literature.

It's a good sign when I'm reading a book and my eyes don't flicker down to the bottom of the page, ever. {s}

Susan Adrian said...

Kreek:

[Now if I could just write an entire book in dialogue]

Called a screenplay. {eg} You should try one, actually! I could totally see you writing a successful movie. Funny and all.

As to description--I think your tolerance is far higher than mine...

Sara Walker Howe said...

Without a doubt, I hate writing description. (I am most likely to skip it as a reader, too.)

I just find it tough to make interesting. Besides, I see it all clearly in my head, can't you see it, too?? *g*

Renée said...

I'm someone else who doesn't like reading or writing long descriptions.

When writing I often have trouble when my main character is alone. The words come easier when there are more than one character to play off each other.

Susan Adrian said...

Sara:

Exactly. Or...it's not important to know what it LOOKS like! Pay attention to the character! {g}

Susan Adrian said...

Renee:

Yes, sometimes alone scenes are difficult for me too...I had my poor MC locked in a room for a week by herself. That was fun. {rolling eyes}

Do you write in first person?

Mrs. Mitty said...

Writing description is definitely my bugaboo. I really have a hard time writing it and feel quite clumsy at it. Perhaps *because* I don't like reading endless, pointless description...but I never skip, 'cause I'm always afraid I might miss Something Important. :D

(Put me in the future screenwriters camp. Gotta love dialog.)

I do enjoy reading well done description, but just not ad nauseum.

Lori Benton said...

Susan,

Chiming in late here, but I had to write my first bridging bit to know that writing the bridging bits--where there's important information but a full blown scene would slow the pace down way too much--is the hardest part for me.

Lori

Susan Adrian said...

Maureen et al.:

I hereby declare we can all banish description from our WIPs! No one reads it!

Okay, maybe not. But we can just sprinkle it.

Susan Adrian said...

Hey, Lori! I didn't know you came over here!

Bridging IS hard. Have you read Sara Walker How's blog post from just the other day about that? She's linked on my sidebar, "One Word after Another". Check it out; there's some good advice there.

Beth said...

Hi Susan!

I (mostly) find dialogue difficult to write. Don't know why, but it just doesn't come easily to me. I work very, very hard for subtlety, cleverness, emotional resonance--all the stuff that makes good dialogue good.

As a reader, I skim detailed fight scenes where I'm expected to keep track of everyone's left hand and right foot and second sword, etc. I also don't like long blocks of introspection that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, or sex scenes full of anatomical directions and an excess of adjectives. However, I find well-written description a joy to read. [g]

Susan Adrian said...

Hi Beth!!

Yes, I know you like description. {s}

Interesting that you have a hard time with dialogue. For me, when I'm in "the zone", that is the easiest part. I can hear what they're saying fairly easily, and see what THEY look like--but sometimes they don't want to tell me what their surroundings look like.

Too busy talking to each other, I guess. {g}

ChrisMac said...

As a writer, I find dialogue easier than description. My characters do a lot of sitting around drinking tea and talking. I guess that might get tedious after a while, so I'm going to have to make them do something soon. And I agree with you about the romance writing. I'm having a hard time with my romantic couple right now. They are stiff and boring (I bet you want to read my WIP now! lol)

Reading, description is hard to follow unless it's really beautiful and meaningful.

Beth said...

Susan,

When I'm writing dialogue, conversations often peter out or wander into a cul de sac; I have to work to build and sustain energy and tension, to direct the dialogue toward a goal while making it sound natural and interesting. I envy those who can just tune in and "hear" it.

Renée said...

Susan- I am writing in the first person. But I wrote a short story in third person and the protagonist was alone a lot of the time and it still to a lot of effort to keep it from turning into a laundry list. She did this, then this, then she did this, etc.

Susan Adrian said...

ChrisMac:

Welcome!

[My characters do a lot of sitting around drinking tea and talking. I guess that might get tedious after a while, so I'm going to have to make them do something soon.]

LOLOL. Not if you're Jane Austen. {g}