Stop Doing This One Thing and Make Your Fiction Better

Ah, at long last, where we get back to the earthen, dirt-hugged roots of the writing craft.


Copyright Joseph Samuel Priestley & The Harrogate Archaeological Society – Original Image

“Your writing is grinding the gears of my imagination when they are mine alone to turn.” 

Speaking of dirt, there’s plenty of it to find in the fiction writing world, but none more so than this common gaffe, this novice tell, the one thing that many writers need to stop doing to make their fiction better:

Description. It’s a two-edged sword whose blade lops off the limbs of lesser wielders.

When you bother describing something—anything—lay off the descriptions, and let your reader’s imagination do the work. Great authors are igniters who know better than to try governing the flame.

For example, telling me about heartthrob firefighter Dan, who “stands 6’4″ with almond hair tamed by stylish undercut, untamed wide shoulders, with hands like oven mitts, and a piercing blue stare” — well, shoot, he sounds hot, but you’ve done all the work and further closed the doors to what potential I could imagine Dan to be. You’ve taken the crayons away and drawn the picture for me. Try that for fun and see where it gets you.

But let’s say Dan “towered over his fellow firefighters,” and “carried a newborn to safety, his ample hands forming a calming, reassuring cradle,” and “hoisted the panicked man, steadying him over the breadth of his sturdy shoulders” — Dan could be anyone, and he’s all yours, ladies. This sort of thing gives me the crayons, the colors, but it lets imagination do the rest. That’s good writing and better reading.

Less is more.

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