Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - #8 Describe Through Movement

Another one of my favorite points on the Ten-Point Strategy and one that has had the biggest impact on my writing.

Describe Through Movement.

Back in the day of Melville and Dickens (before television, MTV and Youtube, when reading was the only form of entertainment) it was perfectly acceptable for authors to expound endlessly on the weather, the flow of grass across a hillside, the decor of a room, the fall of a woman's dress.

Not any more.

In today's world of short-attention span theater, things need to be speeded up, and particularly for thrillers, they need to be in constant motion. Now I don't mean a swirling maelstrom of nonstop action, and I don't mean to say that description and setting aren't important to a story, but never underestimate the power of movement as a technique to get a point across.

One of the simplest ways I incorporate this in my writing is in describing a new setting. Say my character Taylor enters a new room, like his lab for the first time. While I'd love to go into vivid description about the chaotic mess that is his basement laboratory, stressing certain details to show how bare-bones, low budget their funding is, in truth, I'd lose the reader right away. They don't want a long dissertation on the room, they want the story. Yet, some details need to be shared, to place the story, to set the tone and to show that these guys are broke. The way to do it is through movement.

Rather than having the narrator jump in and give a quick info dump on the room, I need to show Taylor walking through the room. Describe the furniture as he walks by it or trips over it. Describe the chaos as he steps over piles. Let his gaze shift to the crumbling plaster on the walls or brush the pile of chocolate wrappers off the desk. Subtle movements like this allow the author to include all the detail necessary to tell the story, without stopping the story to do it.

Since I've learned this technique, from Tess Gerritsen, I've gone back to quite a few of my static descriptions and simply put them into movement. And the results have been dramatic. Try it in your own story at any point of static description. When describing a person, have them in movement. When describing a setting, have someone or something moving in or through that setting. See if it doesn't make your writing more lively.

And that's the way I think of my novels today, one beautiful, flowing, moving story. Hopefully one where the movement will sweep the reader up and carry them along for the ride.


Lou said...


Thanks for your comment on my blog. Glad you liked it! I'd love to exchange links and you're now on my blogroll give me a shout when I'm on yours!



sfgirl said...

Hi, Tod!

Great tips! Linked to you on Alien!