In a post I read a few years ago by Marg McAlister, “Verisimilitude: Description that Puts the Reader in the Scene,” I copied and saved one of the excerpts she used because I thought it was a good example of how sensory description can work well in a scene.
I was reminded of this last night as I lay in bed reading an urban fantasy novel (to remain nameless except to say it is a popular series by a well-known author in the genre) and my pet-peeve radar was activated.
But let me ask first–why do we read? I read for many reasons: to learn about the world, to learn about the craft of writing, to activate my imagination, to take a break from work. But the main reason I read fiction is to enter other worlds, to lose myself in another place and time, to feel what the characters feel, to experience something different.
So, my biggest pet peeve when reading is when an author pulls me from that world.
And pulling me from that world with an info dump of inactive setting or character description is the worst offender. Pure, unadulterated, torturous Hell. Or, what I imagine Hell might be like for a writer or avid reader. Read more
I love the inspiration and ideas I receive from reading different genres and authors. Whether I’m turning the pages of a physical book or one on my Kindle or iPad, I write about what I’m reading.
Sticky notes work great for actual books, and on my Kindle, I highlight and make notes on the screen about passages that grab my attention. I track how authors created a certain mood, tone, or emotional response. If I see a good example of dialogue or a stellar sensory description, I note it. The notes make it easy to go back and review what I learned and what I enjoyed about the book.
Here are several examples of my highlights:
In the thriller Third Strike by Zoe Sharp, the protagonist Charlie Fox suffers the blow of being shocked by a stun gun. I was struck myself by the description of Charlie’s reaction:
The pain had a jagged quality all its own, ripping out chunks of my nervous system and spinning them away like debris from an explosion, so that some parts of my mind seemed magnified a hundred times and others were just big blank holes of frenzied nothingness. Next thing I knew I was on the floor, my body rigid. I was peripherally aware that my head was banging on the concrete and that was probably not a good thing, but I couldn’t stop the twitching dance of my limbs. My hands had distorted into the twisted claws of an arthritis-ravaged geriatric. I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. It was the worst cramp I’d ever had in my life, the most violent fever, the meanest hangover, all rolled into one.
Sharp not only wrote a vivid description, I felt the authority of her words. Her description seemed so realistic and rang so true that I almost wondered if she’d been shocked herself at some point by a stun gun. Read more