I’ve been feeling quite good about the fact that I have recognised my biggest weakness in my own writing. That means, I figure, that I can work hard to improve on that aspect of my work. After that, I can identify another aspect and work on that and so on and so forth.
It’s sometimes easier said than done to be able to fish out your own weakness. This is where the help of well-meaning others comes in. (Those of you who are putting themselves out there on the internet will know why I included the well-meaning part.) You have to be careful about taking the advice of every Tom, Dick and Harry from the internet, however, as not everyone has the best intentions, or indeed the knowledge to give you good advice.
I’ve realised that EVERYONE (almost) wants to be a writer and have had conversations a bit like this:
“I really liked your story.”
“Do you want some feedback?”
“Yeah, that would be cool. Go ahead.”
“Well, the story was set over too long a time period. And the characters need to be more minimal. And the setting needs work. Oh, and your vocabulary.”
“So, you didn’t like the setting, the characters, the time period and the words I used?”
“That’s about it.”
“What did you like?”
My point is this: choose who you listen to. Make sure they mean you well and make sure they know what they’re talking about, otherwise you could end up confused. Now maybe all those things did need working on, but it does no good whatsoever to tear someone’s first attempts apart completely. You can tell when someone is giving you good advice because they will tend to focus on one or two aspects and they will suggest real, concrete things you can try to improve. (Oh, and they can usually spell.)
By the way, you want to know the advice the person in question gave me to improve? “Read more.” OK.
So, back to my own realisation.
My major weakness at this time is……… descriptions! Argh!
Yep, my descriptions need a lot of work. This has been a problem that I was semi-aware of to start with because I know I have a fear of sounding too wordy or condescending in my writing. I also don’t want it to sound contrived or like I’m trying too hard. So, unfortunately, as you’ll see if you read any of my work, my descriptions are far too boring, flat and one-dimensional.
How am I going to fix this, I hear you ask? I’m going to practise, practise, practise! First off I’m just going to try to describe places I visit near to where I live. I’m going to try to involve more of the senses and I’m going to try to relate descriptions more to how my character is feeling. I’m not going to sit with a thesaurus for every sentence I write but I might try to use a few new words each time I sit down to do a session.
I wrote a description of a market in Bristol. It’s my first attempt at better descriptions. When I read it back I didn’t think it was particularly good but it is a start. Here it is:
The edge of the market sits on the corner of High Street where a series of traffic lights dutifully stops the bustling traffic in a slow and endless rhythm. A few market stalls sit on the corner inviting us to venture down into Corn Street and towards the main section of trade. Tourists wander past the jewellery stalls pausing to lift an item or to enquire about prices whilst immune, busy Bristolians walk briskly past as if the stalls were no longer visible. One of the market sellers stands behind his stall smoking and looking despondent, waiting for someone to approach his wares with even a vague interest. As we approach the lanes, the number of market browsers increases and we have to weave our way through them, absent-mindedly touching our bags as a precaution. As we approach the narrow passageway a medley of smells draws us in, welcoming us warmly and enticing us this way and that, towards freshly fried chicken, curried goat or vegetarian tarts. Steam rises urgently from a hot pan whilst meat sizzles and spits amongst rich spices and aromatic herbs. Crescendos of laughter rise and fall amidst an underlying hum of chatter and conversation. People sharing food and company sit at tables outside cafés whilst more perusers carefully amble down the narrow pathway taking the time to study each window, stall and menu. We turn to the left to enter the enclosed market hall, through the open gates and up the steps under light shining through Victorian glass supported by metal frames. The noise becomes louder; a gaggle of voices bouncing off the walls, surrounding our ears, increasing in intensity. There are bigger crowds here and stalls are packed into lines on every side. The air smells thick and warm with notes of incense and perfume. We shuffle our way through, unable to converse, unable to relax, until we reach the other side.
I definitely don’t love it but, what do you think?