Creative writing help


#1

I don’t have any education on creative writing, and while taking a stab at it. i’ve found my primary mode of describing something is repetitive. exp:

A cold winter’s dawn, the air bites at your face. You grip tightly to your fur coat, the only defence you have against the elements. You are trudging through the Great Northern Forest at a slow pace, the snow is deep this time of year, a dingy white repainting of the world before you.

I’m not sure what kind of sentences i’m using. but the first two seem very repetitive in pattern. I wonder if theres other punctuation i could be using, or even a different sentence structure to get across the information i’m trying to.


#2

I’m hardly a creative writer myself, but this is how I’d write that bit.

As dawn rises, the frigid air bites at your face, causing you to grip to your fur coat. As you trudge through the Great Northern Forest at a slow pace, the knee high snow paints the land before you like a dingy white painting.


#3

I’m going to say don’t sweat the little details. My own use of description is awful and I can get completely bogged down trying to write and rewrite a single paragraph, when really that does nothing to improve the story or help things flow. .

Don’t break out the thesaurus and don’t worry about it too much. Concentrate on what you’re good at writing.

Now, if you do want to become better at writing descriptions do a web-search and see if you can find any articles about helping with descriptive writing. Give them a go.

Practice describing things. Practice, practice, practice.

For me your description doesn’t invoke any of the other senses. It tells us what everything looks like. It mentions the biting cold. But there’s no mention of the howling of the wind (say) or the crunching of your feet through the snow. No mention of smells. But those can sometimes slow things down and you don’t need to use them all the time.

I did like your use of the word trudging, but trudging already implies a slow pace, so I don’t think you need both.

But I don’t think there’s actually anything wrong with what you’ve written. It doesn’t flow together great, but that’ll come with practice and the description’s not hugely important.

I’d say if you’re looking for some writing exercises rewrite your passage pulling in all of the other sentences. Rewrite it trying to simplify it, convey as much detail as you can with as few words. Play around with it, have fun, try switching tenses, try describing the play of light, or the way your breath mists as it hits the air. Or try with moods, trudging implies weariness. Just have fun.

Then say this is just a fun exercise. And don’t do any of it when you’re actually writing, because it’s not the individual parts that matter, it’s the whole thing.

Weirdly, I actually have more problems with Fantom’s rewrite since I think it pulls in some ambiguities that aren’t present in the original.

If the cold’s biting at my face, for instance, I’m pulling my scarf tighter, or I’m tugging down the hood of my coat to fend off the chill. I think knee high snow painting the landscape causes a disconnect for me.

But most importantly, for both of you, I’ve never seen fresh snow on a forest actually look dingy. It’s always glittered and sparkled in the light for me, it’s been bright, dazzling white. Pristine but deadly. Heh but that’s just my own experience. The only snow I find dingy is the stuff in the city that people stomp on.


#4

i cut off the rest, the following sentences go into how tired you are with each step and such. and the smell of smoke on the air. that beginning part is just to highlight the pattern i see in my current writing, Where a lot of my descriptive sentences are (one part. comma. second part) where i felt theres probably some way to re-organize the information into neater sentences.

as for the dingy white snow, i guess that’s the wrong word or way to describe it, i was trying to convey the dawn light contrasting with the shadows among the trees, making everything seem washed out. I figure the scenery near the ground looked mostly grey scale as the morning light can only dance along the branches.


#5

I think the “phrase comma phrase” construction you’re concerned about arises at least in part because you seem to be thinking in terms of evocative phrases without considering how they relate to one another. Good descriptive writing to my mind should function less as a painted picture and more as a guided tour. There should be a specific purpose behind both what you choose to describe and how you order those descriptions. If you’re just listing sensory details, its easy to fall
Into a monotonous sentence rhythm.

“A cold winter’s dawn”, for example, is just kind of hanging out there, a noun and a couple of adjectives that don’t immediately relate to the second half of the sentence outside of a general sense of coldness. Your last sentence is similarly incohesive and a bit of a runon as a result. I think you want to say that the thick snow is the reason for the slow pace, but you don’t explicitly draw the connection. The sentence ends up scanning for me as just two unrelated ideas thrown together. Consider the same phrases in a different arrangement:

The cold winter’s dawn finds you trudging through the Great Northern Forest at a slow pace. As the air bites at your face, you grip tightly to your fur coat. It is the only defence you have against the elements. The snow is deep this time of year, a dingy white repainting of the world before you.

I couldn’t say how other writers work, but my own personal style is to think of description as its own mini narrative, implicitly tracking the awareness of the POV character. In other words, description is still basically action: the act of noticing. I think this is approach is especially useful in the “2nd person present tense” style of most choice games. The poin, after all, is to place the player directly into the head of the PC.

So, for the above, the charactet is in the middle of a long, arduous task and at first her mind’s only registering a zoned out awareness of time and place. Then the wind kicks up and demands an immediate reaction, pulling her back into the immediate moment. She grabs at her coat, which naturally leads her to ponder its role in her current situation. No longer zoned out, she takes stock of her surroundings. The first thing she notices is of course the snow because it’s so thoroughly everywhere.

This structure in turn helps guide the reader through the moment, giving them information in a useful, intelligible order. General stage setting, then the activity of the present moment, then context and sensory detail.

In fact, if I were writing this, I’d be inclined to make the narrative element more explicit:

The cold winter’s dawn finds you in the Great Northern Forest, slowly trudging through the deep snow. As the air bites at your face, you grip tightly to the fur coat that is your only defense against the elements. Blinking the frost out of your eyes, you take in your surroundings. The early light, filtered through thick leafless branches, washes out the pristine white of the snow, repainting your whole world a dingy grey. Letting out an almost imperceptible sigh, you resume putting one foot methodically in front of the other.

This is hardly an action packed paragraph, nothing really happens. And I haven’t subtracted any of the sensory detail from the original. But now there’s a dynamic flow to everything; nothing is described unless its directly relevant to what the character is doing in the immediate present of the sentence. I tacked on the final sentence just to give a natural endpoint to the paragraph. It may or may not be useful depending on what follows, but it concludes a miniature story arc about the character moving from a zoned out, thoughtless state, to a more immediately aware one, and back again.


#6

“You are trudging through the Great Northern Forest at a slow pace, the snow is deep this time of year, a dingy white repainting of the world before you.”

I just thought I’d point out that a semi-colon fits better than a comma between “pace” and “the.”


#7

My advice is to read. And when I say read, I mean read books. And when I say read books, I mean that which is commonly designated as “literature.”

(Happy to provide lists.)

Look at how they do it. Try to absorb the rhythms and styles. And then make it your own.

But it’s all begins with the reading.


Literarature, Science Fiction and Fantasy Books
Any tips on improving writing skills?
#8

Heh. Perhaps that’s why my writing is so bad.

What would you suggest to someone who hates all that which is designated literature, and refuses to read outside of the fantasy and sci-fi genres? (Although I doubt it’d help since I do tend to just skim chunks of description anyway).


#9

Read what you enjoy. Plenty of fantasy and sci fi stands up on literary grounds. Off the top of my head I’d include The Scar, Iron Council, The City & The City, and Kraken by China Mieville, the Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, the Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susannah Clark, Little Big by John Crowley, and Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Some of those recommendations reflect my weakness for the grimdark which I know you don’t share, but not all; you can probably figure out from reviews which ones you’d actually enjoy.

Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers, and Iain Banks are generally a bit closer to the brain candy side of the scale but still well-written brain candy (especially Gaiman).

And then there’s all the “literary” stuff that isn’t genre but has enough fantastic or imaginative elements that you might get into it. Time Travelers Wife. Midnight’s Children. The Road (def too grimdark, but great). Oryx & Crake. A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Some of my favorite novels without any fantasy are White Teeth by Zadie Smith (very funny), The Quiet American and Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, Possession by AS Byatt, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, or Homecoming and Gilead (all time fave) by Marilynne Robinson.


Literarature, Science Fiction and Fantasy Books
#10

I’d point to Roger Zelazny, Gene Wolfe, Ray Bradbury Theodore Sturgeon and China Mieville as scifi/fantasy writers generally acknowledged to have top-notch word-smithing skills.


#11

I’d recommend the Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness. Almost the entire story is written in a very colloquial language, but it only adds to the authenticity. The characters are amazing and the plot is gripping and terrifying, and it’s a very good analogy for many of the problems in society. It’s science fiction, but dominated by old fashioned ideologies and technology.


#12

Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I was curious. I’ve not been able to read books lately, unfortunately, so I probably won’t read any of the suggestions but thanks anyway. Hopefully someone else will enjoy the suggestions though.


#13

Audiobooks. You can borrow from your library, or buy from various online sources. You can listen on the commute, during a workout, or while doing chores around the house – activities that could use a dash of entertainment.


#14

@FairyGodfeather You might want to try Dune by Frank Herbert, if you haven’t read it already. There are currently 15 books and it is still an ongoing series. You may want to read the prequels first as they are a far easier read. The Butlerian Jihad is the first book I ever read of the Dune series which is written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Their works are easier to read but are not anywhere near the level of godly word smithing Frank Herbert does in his books.