Sunday, October 21, 2007


Someone just posted something I wrote for the "bad writing/purple prose" contest of some sort back in August, 2004. It's hilarious. Here's my entry; what do you think?

Lacey slid down the long curvy smooth (like ice cream sundae on a very hot moist day) sliding banister when I caught her in a frilly pink dress exposing her creamy breasts like two scoops of cherry ice cream on a very hot moist day. My groin felt like a fireball in east Texas where my good friend Miguel once told me women were like strawberries with whipped cream even though I wasn't sure what he really meant. Even though I was really diabetic I couldn't help but think about smooth creamy ice cream on a hot moist day. Anyway, Lacey crashed into my arms like a lumpy wet blanket and I suddenly realized I was in pain. Sixty two hours of yearning for a woman so divine as Lacey the beauty queen from west Texas where the flowers didn't grow until the sky said "Hello, soldiers!" would do something to a soldier as virile as I was after earning three purple hearts and a medal of honor for saving my best friend's Miguel's life. All we really wanted on that fateful day was a scoop of peach ice cream.

How Do You Describe?

People say I do descriptions well but, honestly, I can't effectively describe (irony, isn't it) how I do it. I just do, mostly using all the senses and everything I can think of to paint the pictures/sensory in my head with words.

But no, good description doesn't mean long and drawn-out and flowery or purple. It's about word choices and structures to conjure the right images in the readers' mind. The trick is not to describe exactly what it is like you're actually taking a photograph, but to connect with your readers' experiences -- for example, everyone has seen sunsets, but if you use the right words, you can really bring a specific image to your readers by way of their own experiences and imagination. That's what description is about.

For example, in this passage, there really isn't a lot of descriptive words or long sentences but hopefully it does conjure the right images in the readers' mind:

They wound through a labyrinth of narrow alleys, deeper into this underclass fortress, the walls of people beginning to suffocate her. The air was hot and spicy with the smell of roasted cuttlefish, steamed fish balls, fried tofu, and curry with coconut milk. Grace elbowed her way through the passages lined with vendors. A fortuneteller sat in her corner shop, the bright red sign on the cracked window a hypnotic twirl of questions: What will happen to all of us? How many people are going to die?

Also, if you weave your description with the action and plot movement, it's more vivid and relevant. It's not a good idea to stop your plot and start talking about the moon and stars.

To me, descriptions are also cumulative. You don't need to stop the action and spend five paragraphs describing your world. Instead, just bits and pieces, here and there, and eventually they all add up to form a complete picture. That's a more effective and powerful way to do descriptions.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Multiple POVs

Q: How do you differentiate your characters while you’re in their views? Do you use different language? Sentence structures? Do your characters notice different details? What else?

A: In my WIP, I have two POV characters: a British girl and an Asian young man. I find myself, when writing from their respective POVs, using different word choices, sentence structures, rhythms, etc. But the differences do not end in the mechanics or descriptions alone -- it's also in thoughts, observations, philosophies, etc. I have to describe the world and what happens through these character's eyes and minds, and they are very different characters with very different backgrounds.

I think as long as you have different characters and you get to know them well, there should not be any problem distinguishing them. It comes naturally, simply because you're seeing the world through these different characters' eyes (and not as an omniscient narrator who has its own world view).

Outline or Not?

The age-old question: Should a novelist outline or not?

Well, I do both.. I prefer to write "organically" to get to know my characters first and chances are they do kind of wander and I do have to eventually trim and cut... but it helps me tremendously to get to know my characters, and that in turn leads me to discover the plot -- did I mention I write character-driven stories? Mostly.

With my current WIP, I wrote about 40K without any outline at all, just a general concept in my mind. But then I came to a point when I drafted out a skeletal plot structure so I know where I am going with the story.

I do have what I call "set pieces" or guideposts and an ending in mind (which, of course, may change over time) so I don't wander too far. I always use the analogy of taking a road trip: I know I am going to start from New York, and will end up somewhere near San Diego, and I would like to visit X, Y and Z and I know my general direction (the southern route instead of the northern), but as far as the journey is concerned, I don't have a set itinerary. And maybe eventually I will have to skip Town X but manage to see Town A instead... and maybe eventually I will end up in Los Angeles instead of San Diego, but close enough...

That's how I manage to have my cake and eat it too, by having a flexible skeleton of a plot but continue to let my characters dictate how they're going to get to the end.

When I start on my thriller, I'll probably take a more plot-driven approach... we'll see.

The way I look at it: whether we outline or not, we're pretty much doing similar things, just different approaches. If you write by the seat of your pants, you may end up with a first draft that is 70% complete -- this would become your outline! Then you rework it. On the other hand, if you outline everything up front, you're basically doing a 5-10% first draft, without much actual writing. The notes, the charts, the plans, etc. are all part of this 5% draft. Then when you're actually writing, you're really writing your "second draft" as the non-outliners would call it.

At least that's the way I look at it. Either way, you'll sooner or later end up somewhere. You have to do what is right for you -- some people prefer to have a 70% first draft, and some prefer the 5%. Whatever works, baby.