Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Just when you thought you'd forgotten that horrid sentence exercise from last week, we're going to revisit it.

She looked at the lush purple heather glowing faintly crimson under the striped pink-and-orange sunset and the puffy tinted clouds.

You did a wonderful job reworking this mess in the comment thread, and now I thought it might be useful to diagnose the actual problems we were trying to eliminate.

Weak Main Clause

The main clause, "she looked," is on the slow train to snoozeville. And yes, that is the technical name for it. (It is in Theresa Land, anyway, where I can so name things! lol) Looking is not an interesting activity, and it's wildly overused in most beginner works. She looks at clouds and flowers, and we look at her looking at them, and then everyone takes a nice nap. Unless there is some significance there -- for example, she has been color blind since birth, but the genius doctor hero cured her with his magic probe and the power of lurve -- skip the looking and find something more interesting for the characters to do.

Insane Prepositional Phrase

Everything following, "she looked," is a prepositional phrase or builds off the phrase. It's long, but it's linear, so its insanity is not derived from crazy structural problems. No, the content is the problem. It doesn't make sense. Heather doesn't glow, faintly or otherwise, and even if it did, I doubt whether it could glow in different colors. And are the clouds both puffy and tinted, or is the author implying something about puffy being a tint? A little punctuation would clear that up. Also, heather may be lovely, but it's probably not best described as lush. A bit scrubby, almost wild, but lush? Eh. Nah.

Give That Clown a Rolaids

Color is a great detail for waking up a scene. Color choices can be symbolic or thematic, and they can reveal much about character, setting, and tone. But this much color all at once reads like rainbow clown barf. Use color judiciously to signal deeper meanings and imbue the text with some vividness. No real hard and fast rules of thumb, of course, but it's something like scent -- one every five or ten pages or so might be enough. A cautious and controlled writer can get away with more or less.

The Cure Is Worse Than the Illness

We see this all the time: an author tries to pump up a weak idea by slathering on all sorts of extra crap. Because she looked is boring, the author tries to wake us up with all that purple (and pink and yellow) prose in the back end of the sentence. So the sentence is unbalanced both in terms of structure and content.

Reactionless Viewpoint

What does "she" think of this view? Does she think it's clown barf, or is she a little girl with a little girl's taste for sparkle and pastels? We don't know. Looking is so passive an activity that it implies nothing whatsoever about how the character is interacting with the environment. This, by the way, is the main reason that much description fails. It's not enough to tell us what the world looks like. We have to see the characters interacting with that world, too.

I feel as though I'm forgetting something. Am I?



Genella deGrey said...

In the sky lingered the blush of rainbow clown barf.

OMG - that's killer-funny.

Riley Murphy said...

Hang on a minute! MY heather glows. Oh, yes, it does - and keeping with your medic theme - I'll tell you why.

I did previously mention - that my heroine was on that hillside looking for that elusive flower, as it was the cure to the virus that was sweeping Europe (but, so far, had only managed to wipe-out France, hmm...) when she spotted the most delicious mushrooms. Starving, as the poor girl was, she ate a fist full of the delectable magic treats and before she knew it? Everything was glowing. :D So, yeah, I stand by my : The heather glowed in crimson hues under the fiery sunset.


Dave Shaw said...

I once knew a lush Heather who glowed quite nicely at times. She didn't much care to dress in crimson, though. Purple was a good color for her, if I remember right. She'd probably take offense at being called 'a bit scrubby', but the 'almost wild' is dead on.

"He admired Heather's lush body and stylish purple gown while enjoying her delight in the colorful sunset."

Just sayin'...

Anonymous said...


I am up with the play of trying to avoid silly words like 'look' with more active and interesting words. And I always struggle, but I do try.

But the next step: how do they feel about what they see? That is something that I think i've been lacking.

hmmm. . . .

Anonymous said...

Well actually, maybe I have done it.


The larger blue star tugged at the white star, pulling it, stretching it, sucking it, slowly but inexorably killing its partner.
The symbolism resonated within Scott.

(Scott has been hunting his ex-parter for the last two months, chasing him across known space and beyond!)

Should I have gone further with that? should I mention some physiological response to what he sees?

Unless you have already done a post on this, maybe something on how to show emotional reaction to 'looking' would be useful? i'd appreciate it anyway :)

Jami Gold said...


Alicia's POV book talks about the different depths you can take in any situation. It is entirely appropriate to change depths within a paragraph.

From least deep to most deep:
- Camera-eye/Objective
The wind blew a tumbleweed across the road and her car hit it.
- Action
A tumbleweed blew into the path of her car and it exploded in a burst of sticks.
- Perception
She flinched as a tumbleweed shattered into sticks when her car hit it.
- Thought
She wrenched her mind back to the present when a tumbleweed blew into her path.
- Feeling
Uneasiness seeped into her body as a shattered tumbleweed rained sticks across her car.
- Deep Immersion
A tumbleweed? What the hell was she doing in such a god-forsaken place?

Sorry for the lame examples, but hopefully you get the point. :) There's no right or wrong answer for the best way to go with any one sentence. You could theoretically start a paragraph in Objective and descend into Deep Immersion in the next sentence. You're allowed to mix and match those levels for whatever would work best in your story. One thing you'll notice is that the deeper you go, the less clear the surrounding environment can be (i.e. you completely lose the description of a tumbleweed hitting her car). This is neither good nor bad, depending on what you want to get across to the reader.

Does that help?
Jami G.

Jami Gold said...


All that, and I'm not sure I answered your question... :)

I think the example you posted avoids the problem Theresa cited, as you made the description relevant to the character. How deeply you go into that relevance at that point in the story is up to you, but yes, I think you did fine in making sure that the description wasn't just hanging there for no reason. :)

Jami G.

Jami Gold said...

Yikes! Re-reading my lame examples, I saw one of the dreaded "it"s that weaken sentence structure and add to confusion.

A tumbleweed blew into the path of her car and it exploded in a burst of sticks.

LOL! Did her car explode or the tumbleweed??? Really, I promise I edit much better than this in my real stuff... :)

Wes said...

Good one, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Haha, thanks Jami.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...


I love your examples! (Even if the car explodes. ;)

Anonymous said...

Reading that sentence I think I'm getting struck with colour overload. When reading it slwoly it makes sense (or it is at least understood) that the flower is purple but glowing crimson adn the sunset is pink and orange striped but reading it quickly I was left wondering if the flower was striped pink and orange because I'd forgotten the earlier colours.

Edittorrent said...

John, if the symbolism is clear, you might not need that second sentence.

I've been planning some posts on description, just haven't been able to get to them. So many of you have requested this lately. Comments, emails, even in entries for the top posts contests. What's in the zeitgeist these days drawing everyone to this topic?


Riley Murphy said...

Hi Dave: *waves*

I was totally expecting you to breakout in a limerick. Crapatola! I could SO do a limerick with:

I once knew a lush named Heather,
Who really got into pleather,
We wrapped it around,
Her heated...

Well, you guys can guess the rest of that one, right? :D

John? Isn’t it great that you don’t even have to respond to Jami, and she triple posts back? It’s like the triple dog dare you - without...well, the dare. ;)

Man, JG? Are you okay? You do realize, don't you? That you create your own stress by publishing your comment and then rereading it afterward? You need to chill. No one is keeping score around here. At least I don’t think so - but if they are? We’re all in trouble - so again, freaking chill out! Sheesh!

Hi Wes!

Murphy - thinking that you guys are all awesome! And a note back to a previous post comment. The T&A thing? I think I heard that first time from Rachel.capps - thanks Rachel! But my spin was supposed to be on the T and A’s ( And yes, I know JG, I made that possessive - but cut me some slack on it would you?) posts - that was the funny. T & As posts? COME ON, that’s better than Dave’s - Sound of Music segue. Sorry Dave. . .but, hey, (insert me brightening up here) I liked your almost limerick stuff today. :D

Jami Gold said...


Ah, don't worry, I wasn't beating myself up about my extra "it". :) I just can't help turning something into a learning experience, even if it's at my expense.

So if other blog readers come across my blathering, maybe they'll go check out the earlier posts about "it"s. (Although I have no idea where they might be located... The super-duper post labeling system must be on the fritz again. :) Ooo, wait, I found them!: and

Anyway, I wonder why I didn't get anything done today, and it dawns on me that it might have been because I was triple-posting over here. (See Jami on a sugar-buzz from on hot chocolate after a bad night's sleep. LOL!)

Theresa, Yes, please, add me to the list requesting a post on description and interweaving it with the narrative.

Okay, going to bed now...before I triple post again. :)
Jami G.

green_knight said...

I don't think the image you picked does heather justice. At certain times of the year, hillsides will exploe in a deep, dark, rich purple that really *is* too kitsch for words.

Therefore, I was perfectly happy with the lush heather. We spread a mantle of silence over the rest of the sentence...

(and I have to admit that I missed the weak verb in all of this, I was so blinded by the colour.)

Martin said...

Actually I think the image was a perfect selection.

Mind you, I would, I took it... Thanks for the link, and interesting blog, just subscribed!