Ever since taking an awesome class about advanced fiction writing at the University of Vermont this semester with Prof. Nancy Welch, I feel I have improved my writing a hundred fold. If I compare side by side what my writing looked like in January to what it is now, my text looks more professional now: less like the bare bones of a mutilated story and much more like a rich, vivid and alluring world I invite my readers into.
We touched many topics in the class: theme, settings, characters development, and point of view, among others. All of them important. All of them talked about in hundreds of books and websites; however, there is an important detail that is essential when we want to be successful at all the topics I mentioned above, and beyond:
I don’t mean about a specific subject (e.g. biology or weather) when I say this.
I mean it as a way of “show, don’t tell”, but different.
When we write and we are inexperienced, maybe even unsure in our minds what the places, characters and actions look like, we tend to use vague language. We tend to use words like “a dog”, “her clothes”, “the wall”. None of those words paint a picture in the minds of our readers. In fact, as my professor told me when I committed this common mistake,”When I put down your text, I forget what the world looked like.”
I can assume no one wants to be told that, right? Well, having been on the receving end of such a critisism, I cringed and felt bad and hopeless. When I had read my work before turning it in, it had seemed so vivid in my mind. Why couldn’t the professor see it too?
But then, right after her telling me where I was missing the point, she then told me the answer.
Don’t write “soda”, write “Coke”or “Pepsi” or whatever brand you like. Don’t just write “clothes”, write “his black, silk jacket matched the grey of his socks”. Don’t write “his cat”, write “the angora cat”or “siamese cat”.
Don’t write vague. Write specific.
Grab a part of your work in progress, look for those words, and see if you can make them more specific. Then put the original next to the revised version and see the changes.
Let me know in the comments what you think of the difference!