Word Painting – The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively

Word Painting

Word Painting – The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan (an excerpt from Writer’s Digest, January 2015) Here are four secrets to keep in mind as you breathe life into your characters through description.

  1.   Description that relies solely on physical attributes too often turns into what Janet Burroway calls the “all-points bulletin.”

It reads something like this: “My father is a tall, middle-aged man of average build. He has green eyes and brown hair and usually wears khakis and oxford shirts.”

This description is so mundane, it barely qualifies as an “all-points bulletin.” Can you imagine the police searching for this suspect? No identifying marks, no scars or tattoos, nothing to distinguish him. He appears as a cardboard cutout rather than as a living, breathing character. Yes, the details are accurate, but they don’t call forth vivid images. We can barely make out this character’s form; how can we be expected to remember him?

When we describe a character, factual information alone is not sufficient, no matter how accurate it might be. The details must appeal to our senses. Phrases that merely label (like tall, middle-aged, and average) bring no clear image to our minds. Since most people form their first impression of someone through visual clues, it makes sense to describe our characters using visual images. Green eyes is a beginning, but it doesn’t go far enough. Are they pale green or dark green? Even a simple adjective can strengthen a detail. If the adjective also suggests a metaphor—forest green, pea green, or emerald green—the reader not only begins to make associations (positive or negative) but also visualizes in her mind’s eye the vehicle of the metaphor—forest trees, peas, or glittering gems.

  1. The problem with intensifying an image only by adjectives is that adjectives encourage cliché.

It’s hard to think of adjective descriptors that haven’t been overused: bulging or ropy muscles, clean-cut good looks, frizzy hair. If you use an adjective to describe a physical attribute, make sure that the phrase is not only accurate and sensory but also fresh. In her short story “Flowering Judas,” Katherine Anne Porter describes Braggioni’s singing voice as a “furry, mournful voice” that takes the high notes “in a prolonged painful squeal.” Often the easiest way to avoid an adjective-based cliché is to free the phrase entirely from its adjective modifier. For example, rather than describing her eyes merely as “hazel,” Emily Dickinson remarked that they were “the color of the sherry the guests leave in the glasses.”

  1. Strengthen physical descriptions by making details more specific.

In my earlier “all-points bulletin” example, the description of the father’s hair might be improved with a detail such as “a military buzz-cut, prickly to the touch” or “the aging hippie’s last chance—a long ponytail striated with gray.” Either of these descriptions would paint a stronger picture than the bland phrase brown hair. In the same way, his oxford shirt could become “a white oxford button-down that he’d steam-pleated just minutes before” or “the same style of baby blue oxford he’d worn since prep school, rolled carelessly at the elbows.” These descriptions not only bring forth images, they also suggest the background and the personality of the father.

  1. Select physical details carefully, choosing only those that create the strongest, most revealing impression.

One well-chosen physical trait, item of clothing, or idiosyncratic mannerism can reveal character more effectively than a dozen random images. This applies to characters in nonfiction as well as fiction. When I write about my grandmother, I usually focus on her strong, jutting chin—not only because it was her most dominant feature but also because it suggests her stubbornness and determination. When I write about Uncle Leland, I describe the wandering eye that gave him a perpetually distracted look, as if only his body was present. His spirit, it seemed, had already left on some journey he’d glimpsed peripherally, a place the rest of us were unable to see. As you describe real-life characters, zero in on distinguishing characteristics that reveal personality: gnarled, arthritic hands always busy at some task; a habit of covering her mouth each time a giggle rises up; a lopsided swagger as he makes his way to the horse barn; the scent of coconut suntan oil, cigarettes, and leather each time she sashays past your chair.

Today is World Kindness Day October 10th @2019

World Kindness Day

World Kindness Day is an international observance on 13 November. It was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a coalition of nations’ kindness NGOs. It is observed in many countries, including Canada, Japan, Australia, Nigeria and United Arab Emirates. Wikipedia

Date: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Frequency: Annual

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Halloween Poem: The Witch of His Dreams!

THE WITCH OF HIS DREAMS

She comes to him at Midnight,

The Witch of his Dreams,

Her eyes a forest green,

Her hair, dark and long,

Her voice, a sweet magic,

Calling out his name,

He could not help but watch her,

Dance among the flowers,

Beneath a waxing moon,

She whirls and cast her spells,

Upon him,

A haunting chant she sings,

And soars into his soul,

On gossamer wings,

She whispers things he longs to hear,

Of secret longings in his ear,

She enchants him with delights,

Though she must fly into the night,

She tells him of her love,

And casts her spells upon him,

To love him evermore,

Though never shall she return,

For she was only ever,

The Witch of His Dreams.

Composed by K. D. Dowdall October 2017

An Interview With Judy Rumsey Bullard, Book Cover Designer, This Saturday, October 20th!

 

 

 

 

 

As writers and authors, we know or should know, the importance of creating a book cover that shines. The cover should also represent as much as possible what the novel is all about. On October 20th, 2018, I will be interviewing Judy Rumsey Bullard, a very talented Book Cover Designer, who will talk to us about Book Cover Designing. She will be displaying 6 more of her great designs, and will talk to us about what it takes to be a successful Book Cover Designer! Here are three Book Cover designs that she designed for three of my novels and I love each one!

 

How to Jumpstart Book Reviews for Self-Published Books!

BY JOEL FRIEDLANDER ON JANUARY 15, 2018

It’s never been a better time to be a self-published author, and there have never been more book reviewers available to the writer who decides to go indie.

Book reviewers help spread the message about your book by publishing a review to their own network. But if you’re new to publishing, you have to figure out how to get those book reviews that can bring you more readers.

First, Get Your Kit Together

Before you go hunting for reviewers, make sure you’ve got the essentials you’ll need. At the minimum you should have:

Either a PDF or an ePub of your book, or both. Include the covers, and also have the cover available as both a high-resolution (300 dpi) and low-resolution (72 dpi) graphics, preferably in JPG format

For print books, plenty of copies and mailing supplies. If you’re publishing via print on demand, order enough books to respond to reviewer requests, since you’ll need to add your marketing materials to the package.

Press release about the launch of your book. Try to make it sound like a story you would read in the newspaper.

Cover letter. This should be a brief introduction to you and your book, but keep it short.

Photos of the author. Again, you’ll need both high- and low-resolution images if you’re approaching both print and online reviewers.

Author biography. This is a good place to show your qualifications, particularly if you’re a nonfiction author.

There are lots of other things you can put in a press kit or a reviewer package, and you can find more about that here: Media Kits for Indie Authors

How to Find Reviewers

There are literally thousands of book bloggers online, and most of them review books even though they aren’t paid. Nevertheless, many are thoughtful reviewers and good writers, and have a significant following.

There are also reviewers offering paid reviews, and over the years this has become much more acceptable in the indie community. It’s one of the ways we get word out to readers about our books.

Paid reviews might work for completely unknown fiction authors, who have little chance to get exposure when they get started. Otherwise, use free review sources at first, it will be a long time before you run out of them.

Here are some recently updated resources that will help you locate reviewers:

Midwest Book Review welcomes self-published books, and their website is bulging with targeted information about book reviews and reviewers.

Indie Reader invites authors to submit their books for review, and they have become a trusted source for reviews. The site is run by authors and writers.

The Indie Author’s Guide to Free Reviews is an updated article from Publishers Weekly by By Daniel Lefferts and Alex Daniel with lots of excellent resources.

Indie View keeps an updated list of hundreds of reviewers.

Self-Publishing Review has been reviewing books since 2008 and also has lots of information about book marketing in general as well as an archive of great content.

Don’t forget the many reviewers who post on book-oriented sites like Goodreads, where you can also find genre-specific groups, too.

Reedsy has built an excellent list of Best Book Review Blogs of 2017. Authors can search by genre and filter out blogs that do not review indie books.

The Book Blogger List is another searchable curated list of online reviewers.

A recent interview with Jason B. Ladd, How To Get Book Reviews As An Unknown Author, with a great outline of the process of getting reader reviews.

For print reviewers, consider the programs run by the Independent Book Publishers Association. These mailings of books for review go to over 3,000 newspaper and magazine editors and reviewers.

There are an almost endless list of blog articles and books on this subject to research, too. Getting reviews is a standard part of book marketing, and you should plan on spending

Here are some recently updated resources that will help you locate reviewers:

Midwest Book Review welcomes self-published books, and their website is bulging with targeted information about book reviews and reviewers.

Indie Reader invites authors to submit their books for review, and they have become a trusted source for reviews. The site is run by authors and writers.

The Indie Author’s Guide to Free Reviews is an updated article from Publishers Weekly by By Daniel Lefferts and Alex Daniel with lots of excellent resources.

Indie View keeps an updated list of hundreds of reviewers.

Self-Publishing Review has been reviewing books since 2008 and also has lots of information about book marketing in general as well as an archive of great content.

Don’t forget the many reviewers who post on book-oriented sites like Goodreads, where you can also find genre-specific groups, too.

Reedsy has built an excellent list of Best Book Review Blogs of 2017. Authors can search by genre and filter out blogs that do not review indie books.

The Book Blogger List is another searchable curated list of online reviewers.

A recent interview with Jason B. Ladd, How To Get Book Reviews As An Unknown Author, with a great outline of the process of getting reader reviews.

For print reviewers, consider the programs run by the Independent Book Publishers Association. These mailings of books for review go to over 3,000 newspaper and magazine editors and reviewers.

There are an almost endless list of blog articles and books on this subject to research, too. Getting reviews is a standard part of book marketing, and you should plan on spending some time doing this for your own book launches.

5 Key Tips for Getting Book Reviews

Now that you have your materials together and access to lots of reviewers, you’re ready to go. Here are my 5 best tips for getting book reviews, whether online or off:

Pick the right reviewers. This is the single most important thing you can do to help your review program. Find out what kind of books the reviewer likes to review, and only select appropriate reviewers. Don’t just spam your contacts or people you know in unrelated fields. I do few book reviews on the blog, but I constantly get pitched by romance novelists, thriller writers, and just about everyone else. Save everyone time and effort by aiming your review requests in the right direction.

Query the reviewers. Check each reviewer’s requirements. Some want you to just send the book, but many ask for a query. Some review e-books, many do not. Conforming to their requirements saves both of you time. Check out this query letter tutorial.

Send the book. In your query make sure to offer both as many versions as you can of the book. You can use a PDF, an ePub or Kindle format, or a print copy. Let the reviewer decide how she wants to receive it.

Follow up. Don’t stalk or harass the reviewer, who is probably doing this in her spare time. But if you haven’t heard anything after a few weeks, follow up to see if they still intend to write the review.

Thank the reviewer. It’s common courtesy, but it also shows you appreciate the time and effort someone else took to help bring your book to the attention of more people. Every reviewer has an audience of some kind, and every audience can create network effects that spread the word about a book that really stands out.

Book reviews can be very effective in spreading the word. Nothing sells books as well as word of mouth, and you can get people talking about your book if you can bring it to their attention. Book reviews will do that for you. Consequently, an aggressive, ongoing book review program is one of the best ways for self-published authors to get attention for their books.

Something to Add?

In addition to the resources mentioned in this article, do you know of others for finding book reviewers, and particularly identifying top reviewers in your field? Any tips to share? Please let us know in the comments.