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Monday, September 14, 2015

Weird Writing Tip #4- Don't Name The Thing


The fourth in a series of Weird Writing Tips that have helped me craft that wacky thing we call "fiction".

Don't Name The Thing

I got to thinking about this tip the other day after helping a friend with a college English assignment. Her teacher gave feedback about not "telling" the story--in other words, the whole "Show vs Tell" thing. It's a simple enough concept when bandied about by fiction writers, but teaching exactly HOW to make that mental shift to someone with no fiction writing experience can be an interesting prospect. 

I thought back to my own humble writer beginnings, when I was first making the change over from non-fiction. Let me just say, "showing" a scene was a tall order when my prior background had consisted largely of health education articles and random how to's. After stumbling through some rather poor attempts at prose, I ran across an exercise that finally broke through my rigid, procedural telling and allowed me to start showing what I wanted to convey.

The weird tip is: Practice writing about everyday objects without ever actually naming what they are.

Here's how to do this:

Look around the room and select an item at random. Spend a few minutes freewriting a list of descriptive terms that do not include the actual name of the item or any synonyms. (For instance, if you are looking at a flower, don't write "flower", "rose", or "posy".) Now go back through and delete references to shape and color. Finally, write a sentence describing the item using the remaining terms. It's okay if it looks silly or rambles on a bit. Just do your best. And by the way, you get bonus points if you also avoid naming what the item is made out of. (For instance, "wood" if you're describing a desk.)

This can be a tough exercise at first! It is certainly much easier to say, "There were flowers in a vase on the desk" than, "An explosion of delicate beauty, like miniature fireworks bursting out of a crystalline palace, adorned her desk." But one way will help enrich the molecules zipping around your writer's brain, while the other way, not so much.

Important: I'm not suggesting that this is the way to write all our actual fiction, so that a character doesn't get into a "car", but a "rolling contraption of gleaming technology." Rather, the purpose of this exercise is to force our brains away from "telling" what The Thing is, and instead describing the essence of what makes an object/person/setting unique. It's a technique worth playing around with for a bit. As  you practice, this will get easier and more automatic until you realize that your prose flows out with much more richness and layers during actual writing sessions. The gears have switched over, and the fiction writer's thought process has kicked in. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Have fun, and have at it!

~~~
On select Mondays, I like to gab about writing or whatever's going on with me. For more gab, please join me on Twitter or Facebook. I love talking to people!

J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night.

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