Remember how it felt to get a Fire Flower in Super Mario Bros.? In half a second you transformed from a simple plumber into some mad flame god, spewing your wrath to every Goomba in sight.
What if your writing could get the same kind of power-up?
Well, you just bopped the lucky question mark box, ’cause I’ve got your special overalls right here. This power-up is two simple words:
This has helped me so much in my own struggles as a writer, and it’s pretty easy to follow. Nothing fancy. Just be specific.
When you’re talking about the spaceship that carried your band of swaggering good-for-nothings to their base on Izzdrathil, don’t just call it a “spaceship.” What kind of spaceship was it? A corvette? A corsair? A cruiser? (Possibly something that doesn’t begin with C? Sheesh.) Whatever – pick something and run with it. And bam, suddenly your scene is that much more real, that much more alive.
You can do this in almost every single paragraph.
I used to be very generic and boring with the details in my stories. Mainly it was laziness. I just didn’t take the mental energy to think up all those little bits and pieces (and I didn’t think it mattered). Now I know better. I still fight this tendency, but I’ve come a long way from where I used to be.
One key turning point was William Gibson’s Neuromancer. After finishing the novel, I read an interview where he refers to its “imaginative hyper-specificity.” Gibson’s a master of this, and when I read that phrase, it really clicked. Neuromancer felt confusing at times, but one thing it never felt was fake.
Of course, like anything, it’s possible to overdo it with specifics. “Corsair” may be better than “spaceship,” but I don’t necessarily need to know it’s a Delta Model G6 Superluminal Falcon With Retractable Sunroof. Nor does “being specific” mean “inventing a paragraph of extra description just because you can.” It’s still important to be frugal with your words.
And, just as Mario has Buzzy Beetles to contend with, you too may find certain situations where the Specificity Fire Flower just doesn’t apply. Maybe you’re trying for a certain style, and generic words just work best.
As always, do what fits the story.
Before I duck out, here’s some good news. I’m very excited to announce that Agent Courtney picked my story, “Marva,” as the first-place winner in her contest! The prize is a query critique, and you’d better believe I’ll make full use of that. Mad props to Courtney for being excellent enough to host the contest in the first place. And if you haven’t read the story yet, why not check it out now?
Congrats on the win!! It was definitely a great story!
I feel this post goes well with my post about leaving it up to the reader. Like you say at the last part, it’s crucial to be specific, but that doesn’t mean go into heavy detail about it. By being specific, it helps the reader create an image of whatever it is being described, while not doing all the work for him.
I still need to work on this. Lazy writing is definitely the main weakness of the beginning writer. But its so worth putting in the extra work to make the prose pop out by using a unique, specific, clear and concise way to describe something.
Thanks Amber! As for lazy writing, I think the best cure is to try it the non-lazy way just once or twice. When I see how much better my own writing is with the extra effort, it’s hard to go back.
Congratulations on winning first place for Marva, excellent story! and btw, I think the details in your story def contributed to the win.
Thanks! 🙂 I definitely tried hard to give the world a very physical realism.