Description is something I struggle with. I like dialog, perhaps a little smattering of description in between to set the scene, but that’s it.

Unfortunatley, I have created an unusual world for my novel and I need to give readers a sense of the place. That means more description, but how much?

I liked Stephen Donaldson‘s Thomas Covenant series, but I found myself regularly flicking through 3 or 4 pages of landscape description, or repetition of the Convenant’s inner turmoil. Honestly, forests are not that interesting, and Convenant needed a good kick in the goolies pants. I also liked Russell Kirkpatrick‘s Fire of Heaven trilogy, but in book 1 his background as a map maker peeped through a bit often. I’ve made my opinion of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell clear in earlier posts, so I won’t labour the point (how many trees died for those extra 600 pages).

So, just when I’m thinking that less is better, I read China Mieville’s, Perdido Station – absolutely choc full of detailed gothic description. Absolutely mesmerising.

As a writer, how do you know when you’ve got enough, and more importantly, how do know you’re over doing it?
What are the warning signs?
Do you have to wait for first reader feedback?

I like the approach of Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett who build gags into their worlds. The descriptions are entertaining while still creating a feel for the world. Maybe I’ll try something like that.


I am having a meta blognition moment, that is, I have been thinking about literary blogging and podcasting and what purpose they serve. 

Many of blogs and casts I subscribe to are by people with something to promote, or are part of a persons ‘platform’.  I think many bloggers also see an element of public service in what they do.  Their blog is part of their public face, so they take the time and put in the effort to make sure they produce something of a suitable standard.  If you want to see blogging by people who don’t give a crap about how they come across, have a random trawl through MySpace. 

I think there should be a service that stores people’s MySpace pages, and when they turn forty it sends the link to their kids.   

“No, no, you’ve got it all wrong.  EMO was for well behaved kids who studied hard and joined the chess club and never had sex.”        
I digress.

As writers sweat over their latest blog entry they must have the same thoughts as Lord Lever (or Henry Ford if you prefer) who said “half of my advertising is a waste of money I just don’t know which half,“ or to paraphrase, half of my writing is a waste of time I just don’t know which half. 

Are you better pounding out uninspired word count for your story, or putting together something to keep people coming back to your site.  How much time do you dedicate to maintaining ‘good will’ when the next book release is twelve months a way and you’re three months from your deadline (thank heaven for RSS they cry). 

You have to ask yourself what’s in it for those anonymous bloggers who do it for fun then find themselves on the A-list.  It must be flattering of course, but what do they do about the seventy comments a day and the self imposed expectation to always come up with something fresh. 

Which brings me around to the sad inspiration for today’s musing.  Miss Snark, the crabby, anonymous, and marvellous NY literary agent has retired her blog.  If you know about Miss Snark this will not be news, if you don’t, I recommend you search her site before you even think about sending out your finished manuscript. 

In two years she went from an anonymous blogger with zero hits to a cult goddess with two and half million hits.  Toward the end she was answering upward of four comments a day. 
All done with wit, all done anonymously – no commercial gain.

She was a gem and I wish her well.

I will blather about writer’s block and mutter about muses in another post, but for now, just know that I’m not a believer in either. But Editor’s Apathy, this I know about.

At some point you will reach a stage when the deed is done, you have completed the story, the word count shows the magic 100,000. Victory!

Ok, that’s the fun part over. Now you have to sit down and edit it – I’m not talking about fixing some punctuation, I’m talking, brain swelling, soul crushing rewriting.

I will guarentee the bits you found most frustrating the first time around are the bits that need the most work, and the bits you thought were gold, are now looking a bit brassy. It’s quite acceptable at this point to indulge in short period of pouting and foot stamping (Mums and Dads, keep the study door closed, the children don’t need to see this).

I don’t really have any suggestions for making this process easier but here are some things that don’t help.

  • I know, I’ll take a 5 minute break to play this highly addictive computer game that nearly broke up my marriage 3 years ago.
    I have Drizzt’s armour and my thief is up to level 5, but how do I get the Celestial Telescope from the Hall of Wonders – is that the sun coming up?)
  • I need to look at some examples from other writers. Mmm, lets see George RR Martin’s, Song of Fire and Ice series (7 x 180,000 words) or Stephen King’s, Dark Tower (5 x 100,000).
  • Gee, the back door is sticking a bit, I’ll go and get my plane, and that cornice could do with a touch of paint. Is that light fitting loose?  My wife quite liked this phase, she just wished it kept going until the paving was finished.
  • This is my first novel so it’s not going to get published anyway. Why not just put it away and start the next one.

This is what helped me.
I need to do it because this is part of the job of writing a novel. I can’t even lay claim to having a novel in my bottom draw until I have at least edited it to a competant standard. It doesn’t count as part of the millionwords if it hasn’t been reviewed and revised. It’s like calling yourself marathon runner because you are pretty quick over 10km.  Now pull your finger out.

The Naked Novelist

1, May,2007

The Naked Novelist is a local show (Melbourne based) but not necessarily only for local people. It can be a bit of a hit and miss affair – but show #23: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers, (April 16th)is a beaut.

The podcaster, Brendan Gulifer, is a journalist, non-fiction writer and aspiring novelist. He can a bit self indulgent at times and despite not wanting to fall into the trap of becoming a ‘merchant banker’** he sometimes stumbles on the edge of the bear pit.  What saves this podcast are the interviews.

He has a tendency to rely on contacts associated with his old University writing course. This hasn’t been a problem to date due to the quality of the people interviewed and Brendan’s interview skills.

Worth putting in your feedreader.

** rhyming slang for wanker.