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Sunday, January 21, 2024

The devil is in the details

cj Sez: My first drafts are crappy and sparse, mainly for two reasons: First, I was once a corporate journalist/editor with limited line space, and second, I got turned on to creative writing by a screenwriter.

  I often get criticized for my lack of details, but once I’m finished with the first go-through, my editing process expands on details of the five senses…hear, see, taste, smell, feel… and the characters’ state of mind.

  I do incorporate some action descriptors, but I consider too many of them stage direction. Some writers use them to “tell” their readers what the author means or as a way to add words to a short manuscript. 

  Action needs to have purpose. If describing an action doesn't contribute to the reader's knowledge of the character, scene conflict, or mood, then it’s stage direction. Because I write mostly suspense and thrillers, I have a minimalist approach to action … using few words speeds up the pace and heightens the tension. On the other hand, readers of cozy mysteries or more narrative-based novels want (and expect) to know every detail.

  Describing action is a good way to control the pace of your novel. Even in suspense and thrillers, there are places where the reader needs a respite from the action. These would be the spots where I add more detail…or beats as authors call them. Places where I can reveal more of the characters’ growth, i.e., transformation, as the plot progresses. 

Hint: Adding detail words slows the pace; being stingy speeds it up.

  When action is needed to set some mood for the scene, then yes, I detail the action. Sometimes I add details to slow the action and increase the tension. If I want a character to give the reader a sense of impending danger and fear, then I add more description to the action. I tend to follow the lead of my favorite authors...Robert Parker, Stephen King, James Lee Burke... their succinct style of writing is what I like to read, and it is this reader who is my target market. Be sure you have identified who that is.

Hint: Write for your target market what you like to read.

  When I write, I take my cues from screenwriting, except I’m the actor. Since internal dialogue doesn’t convert easily o the movie screen, I tend to develop most of the characterizations within action. I step through the scene in my mind and react to the events as my characters would, physically and mentally. I can do that because I know their personalities well enough to know what they would do in a given situation. 

  I know them because I create backstory/biographies for each of them. I want my readers to identify the character more by what s/he does and says rather than what I might tell them (aka author intrusion).

  Fiction, non-fiction, whatever the genre, each has a different set of “rules” because the readers have different expectations and wants. The key is to write for your target market . . . and make that the genre you read and analyze. Over time, the structure of the genre will likely become second nature.

  If you have any questions or more info to add to this post, please leave a comment. Lyrical Pens would love to hear from you.


For readers and writers . . . Benefits of reading:


Here’s an explanation of when to use use or used (love that usage):


  Okay, that’s it for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for a happy and safe you and yours.


Now some words from my sponsors:

  Available through your favorite book seller! Two fabulous Mobile Writers Guild anthologies with a variety of wonderful short stories and poems to celebrate upcoming special days. (P.S Mardi Gras celebrations have already started in Mobile. Krewe de la Dauphine’s parade rolled through Dauphin Island on Jan. 13. Laissez les bons temps rouler)

  My novels, THE DAWGSTAR and DEATH ON THE YAMPA are fast-paced, thriller/suspense stories with sassy banter and a smidgen of romance. The books are available on Amazon or through your favorite eTailer and bookstore. Got a library card? You can read the ebooks free from Hoopla.

  The Haunted Book Shop has signed copies of my paperback books in stock. TO ORDER, contact:  If she happens to be sold out, shoot me an email. I have a small stash (for a discounted price plus shipping).

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