I need some tips for writing fiction that's appealing.
July 27, 2007 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I need some tips for writing fiction that's appealing.

I've recently learned that my fiction is unappealing to most readers. It turns out that I have an overly "cinematic style." I imagine all kinds of details: things on walls, hallways, how bodies look and move, clothes.

The problem is that when people start reading my story, they complain that it's all description and very little plot. They also would prefer me to get rid of most of my descriptions because they consider them unnecessary.

The visual stuff is what comes to me when I free write and thoughts of concrete actions/character features/events don't. How should I get myself to integrate plot elements into my writing?

(The way it works so far is that a storyline is the last thing I add to my writing because it has to be there. But it feels inadequate and fake.) Btw, he text that I am talking about is online at http://home.comcast.net/~gregb88/sparrow.html, if you want to get a better idea of my overly-visual writing style.
posted by gregb1007 to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a story without a plot. No plot = a description. Start training yourself to come up with actual stories, and that will drive the level of descriptive detail you need.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:21 AM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

The way it works so far is that a storyline is the last thing I add to my writing because it has to be there.

The storyline should be the FIRST thing you add to your fiction writing, precisely because it HAS to be there. A story without a plot isn't a story, frankly.

Use your free writing as an exercise, to keep in practice, but when you sit down to write a story, have a story in mind-- not necessarily the whole thing, but at least two of the three elements (beginning, middle, end, to put it at its most basic.)

You may find as you write that the characters change the end of their own accord, but without a basic sense of plot, you're writing a setting, not a story.
posted by dersins at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Think of your work less as Writing and more as Storytelling. Every word on the page should serve your story; it should flesh out a character, move the plot forward, or otherwise move your reader closer to the heart of the Story. f it doesn't, cut it, even if it is the most eloquent description of a hallway ever penned. If you want to write words for words' sake, and explore the intricacies of pure language, then try poetry. Fiction is about telling a story.

on preview, what dirtynumbangelboy said
posted by junkbox at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2007

Start with an interesting character. Use your vivid imagination to envision details of how the character looks, and why.

Put the character in an interesting situation from which the story will arise. You don't have to know how it will end, necessarily.

Write, using all your cinematic description if you want.

Let the draft sit for at least a day, then go back and cross out any descriptions that don't add to the story.

(Not a writer... just an idea.)

I imagine all kinds of details: things on walls, hallways, how bodies look and move, clothes.

This is exactly why I could never make it through a Clancy novel. He can't have someone go to the bathroom without describing the factory where the toilet paper was made.
posted by The Deej at 11:34 AM on July 27, 2007

Please, please, please go buy "Story" by Robert McKee, and read it.
It's geared towards screenwriters, but it is, by leaps and bounds, the best, most inspirational writing-about-writing I've ever come across. It is all you need to make your stories exponentially more compelling....even if you do prose rather than scripts.

Hell, buy it just for the introduction, where he talks about why story is important, why people relate to it, what purpose it serves in the world, and how to find stories you care about enough to write well. I promise you'll get all fired up and inspired in your own writing.

note: I am not Robert McKee, nor do I own stock in his chosen publishing house. Though I am a perfessional writer.
posted by Ziggurat at 11:46 AM on July 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

Even after you "integrate plot" you might still be tempted to write a lot of description. I read your piece and noticed a lot of repetition in your description, as well as certain points where the description pulled me out of the action. (There are plenty of stories with lots of description, so perhaps this is something your readers get caught on?)

There's straight repetition of the word sweat/sweaty, repetition of the shoulder rubbing action, but also a redundancy of images. Some of it may be intentional, but there's a point where it can get distracting and that's just something you watch out for when editing. I liked the bit about "flying up the stairs like a mad sparrow," the rest of the description of Emmet going up the stairs seemed much less powerful.

When you're re-reading a piece, think about the flow of each sentence, each paragraph. Stopping to read about minute details can slow the pace down, for example with the green sweater. Sometimes the description confused me, pulled me out of the narrative. In the fifth to last paragraph, I forgot that they were running because of the interjected description.

Finally, with your description, be careful of the verb "to be." It's not always such a bad thing, but you start three paragraphs with 'person was ___" and somehow getting rid of that "was" would be more effective, like saying "Emmet flew up the stairs" instead of "Emmet was flying." It's more immediate.

(On preview, I'm totally reading the McKee book right now!)
posted by loulou718 at 11:51 AM on July 27, 2007

Sum up the main conflict that's going on in your story in a sentence. You're writing short stories, I don't think it should take a paragraph. Plot is conflict — with nature, with another person, with oneself, etc. Someone wants something, there's something stopping him or her from getting it. That makes them a character.

Write that sentence on a piece of paper. As you're writing, ask the question: what does what I'm writing have to do with this sentence? You're writing short stories, so every word counts. If it doesn't link to that one sentence, don't put it in your story. Write it down and file it away if you need to, but don't put it in this story. Maybe one day you'll have another story for it. Conflict is what makes people read your stories. Make the description serve the conflict.

Oh, and keep writing. It's a mistake not to. You only get good at writing by writing.
posted by graymouser at 11:52 AM on July 27, 2007

To sum up my last post about description: Edit! I used to hate editing and rewriting, then I realized that it was a great way of getting rid of the bits that no one liked...
posted by loulou718 at 11:53 AM on July 27, 2007

Any time that you put in a description, ask yourself "How is this important to the overall story?" Even if the plot is the last thing that you come up with in writing, make sure that every detail you put in has a good answer to that question. And a good answer is not "Because the clock is on the wall, so they would see what it looks like." A good answer is "Because Character X looked at it while thinking about Y, and her perception of it gives an insight into how she is thinking" or "Because the clock represents the passage of time, and this scene is a very stressful period where the characters must wait a long while" or "Because the clock will be used to bludgeon X to death in the final chapter, and so I need to let the reader know it is there."

If you don't have a good answer, get rid of it. Even if it is an absolutely beautiful description. Put it in a separate file and save it for some later story where it might fit in, if you want. But do not keep it in your piece if it does not serve the plot.

(The same applies to any part of a story, of course--characters, dialogue, entire episodes.)

(Or, on preview, what graymouser said.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:55 AM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I read your sample text! I think that I would not say that the problem is that it's "overly visual", but that it has no through-line. I had no idea what was going on.

What actually happens in there? Put it in one line.

Short stories don't need to have amazing plotlines or anything, but something needs to happen. You're telling a story, even if the story is just "Mary realizes that she hates cooking dinner for Harry."

People have a lot of rules for how writing works, and some of them may be helpful to you, and some may not, but if you can't go "Listen, I'm writing this story, and it's about [X]", you're not ready to write it.

My two cents.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:57 AM on July 27, 2007

thehmsbeagle, I think it's an "execution" problem. I do have an idea of what the story is about and can sum it up quickly (in one sentence), but I bet that it's probably just written in a very confusing way. I think graymouser said that the description manages to distract and pull the reader away from the plot to the point where he can't follow the plot anymore.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:05 PM on July 27, 2007

Also, sometimes, you just need to get somebody out of the car. No matter how lush your description of the speedometer the interior, the buttery leather seats- it doesn't MATTER. Nobody cares how the door handle felt in his hand, nor do we need a moment to think about that little catch when the door is halfway open, and needs just another push to open completely. While these things may be vivid, and true, and even perhaps beautiful, sometimes you just need to get somebody out of the car.

A story is what happens against the backdrop. It's not the backdrop.
posted by headspace at 12:26 PM on July 27, 2007

Wow, I just read your story. The problem isn't "too much description" - you're simple turning all action into description. Let's just start here:

Marie usually avoided talking to Anne because she was a quiet, wallflower type who stuck to Emmet at parties and would hardly talk to anyone else. She was surprised that Anne found her [telephone number] and had enough guts to call her and confront her.

What's happening? Nothing is happening, you start by describing the situation then disclose information in the past tense. As a reader, you keep waiting and waiting for an anchor to tell you what's happening. If you want to figure out how to "show" not "tell", try rewriting things in the present tense (and put the important information first, discourse after it):

Marie is surprised when Anne calls. She had always avoided Anne, because she is a quiet, wallflower type who sticks to Emmet at parties and hardly talks to anyone else. But Anne had enough guts to find her number and confront her.

Notice how simply setting a "what's happening right now" anchor with the first sentence lets the rest of your discourse have something to hang onto.
posted by lubujackson at 12:30 PM on July 27, 2007


What I'm saying is that your descriptions need to be directly relevant to the story. If you describe how the character's moving, well, that description should be telling us something about the central conflict. If a character moves urgently, that tells us that whatever's going on, it matters to him or her. If he or she is more lackadaisical, there's a reason for it. Description is perfectly valid in a story if it's giving us more information about what is going on. You need to focus on what's going on, and why what you're writing is relevant to that point.

As for clarity — that'll come with time. The best thing you can do for your writing is to keep writing, and keep reading good prose. There's a theory that everyone has a hundred thousand bad words in them, and once they get out the good words start coming. It's a good theory.
posted by graymouser at 12:31 PM on July 27, 2007

Showing, not telling. Also: Hemmingway.
posted by klangklangston at 12:34 PM on July 27, 2007

(Also, thirding the "show, don't tell" rule.)
posted by graymouser at 12:36 PM on July 27, 2007

klang, I personally don't like Hemingway's style.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2007

Hemingway freaks me out, but I think it's due to the lack of contractions.

Get a character you're invested in. Then throw him/her into the world, throw some problems at 'em, and see what happens.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:43 PM on July 27, 2007

You certainly can learn from Hemingway, though. He may go too far in one direction, but you're going too far in the other. If you can understand what it is about his writing that works for some people and apply that to your own writing in a lesser degree, it'll probably help you out.
posted by Ms. Saint at 12:44 PM on July 27, 2007

Good point, Ms. Saint
posted by gregb1007 at 12:46 PM on July 27, 2007

Hemmingway is pretty much the gold standard of tight writing. There's a lot not to like about him (I tend to get tired of the Man Who Is Nobly Facing Death Stoically So Has Sex With Young Women While Drunk And Doesn't Love Them trope), but if you don't understand why his short stories are so worth reading, you're not going to understand why yours aren't.
posted by klangklangston at 12:47 PM on July 27, 2007

First up: there's only one way to improve your writing, and that's by writing more. But, in general, I think you've got to find a balance between two poles:

- Learning how to follow the rules of fiction (plot, throughline, clarity, and everything else that folks are telling you to do), and
- Learning how to break the rules of fiction (i.e., finding "your voice" -- the thing that makes your writing unique).

Everybody here so far is telling you how to follow the rules -- and it's certainly important for you to learn how. It'll help make your writing clearer and more accessible to most readers. Along these lines, I'd suggest reading John Gardner who calls fiction "a continuous, unbroken dream" and says that it is the writer's first duty to not do anything that will pull the reader out of the flow. Gardner's The Art of Fiction has excellent short exercises in the back that will help get you strengthen your plot muscles.

However, I think it's also important for you to follow your natural idiosyncracies to their conclusion. Don't fight your natural tendencies -- perfect them. Learn to prune and revise ruthlessly -- not so that your prose can be more "standard," but so that you can express the best possible version of your own voice.

For inspiration, look at the great writers of descriptive prose. Try reading the first 20 pages of Swann's Way, or pick up some Virgina Woolf. These authors have a descriptive style which is poetic -- but also gripping. The intelligence and flow of their writing doesn't interrupt your reading -- it pulls you deeper and deeper. Here's one of my favorite examples of descriptive prose: Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, excerpt from "Time Passes".

"But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen; they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumn trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore."

See what I'm talking about? I mean you no disrespect at all to say that your descriptions are not yet at the Virginia Woolf level. You need to do a hell of a lot of writing -- and even more revising -- to get there. But maybe it's worth the work.

One more recommendation for you -- and this one is my secret weapon. The book is Richard Lanham's Analyzing Prose. It's a little technical, but if you really want to understand prose, it is the Best. Book. Evar. It'll show you exactly what the stylistic difference is between, say, Woolf and Hemingway -- and how to use those styles in your own work. Seriously, check it out.
posted by ourobouros at 12:50 PM on July 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

klangklangston: I understand his style and how it is characterized by "tight writing" but I don't aspire to write like him. With regard to modern English lit, I'd probably love to be able to write like Virginia Woolf. I think she also manages to be a vivid writer, but also an engaging one. That's a combination I respect a lot.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:51 PM on July 27, 2007

Good points Saint and klangklangston.

If you want to dig into Hemingway a little bit, I'd suggest his short story collections (especially Hills Like White Elephants. pay attention to the clock in that one). They really show off his ability to "show not tell," and if you're anything like me you won't get so bogged down.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:52 PM on July 27, 2007

Based on your sample and your comments here, it seems to me like you have a tough time moving from freewriting (where visuals are often dominant) to fiction writing (where they often aren't).

Two books come to mind which you may find useful: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and Writing with Power. The latter is for all genres, but it's also very pro-freewriting.

(I'll refrain from workshopfilter here, but if you want my thoughts in that vein feel free to drop me a note.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:12 PM on July 27, 2007

Marie usually avoided talking to Anne because she was a quiet, wallflower type who stuck to Emmet at parties and would hardly talk to anyone else. She was surprised that Anne found her [telephone number] and had enough guts to call her and confront her. It was the first time she heard that emotionally collected and calm woman get angry. But she wouldn't have none of the guilt. After all, it wasn't Marie's fault that Emmet had feelings for her. Anne should have gotten the hint that things weren't going smoothly in the relationship after he refused to accompany her to the [tango] club. He had put up with hours of her tireless dancing for months, but the week before he told her point blank that it was both too exhausting and too boring.
Actually, this is not a "description" at all, it's exposition, and it's boring. You're basically describing characters, and you should never do that. Characters have to be reviled through their actions and words. None of that text gives us a sense of place, which we can use to visualize the scene.

Actually I would just delete that whole paragraph. If you need to do exposition due to space constraints, just get it over with. You also have very weird descriptions that don't help at all.
his eyes, red and swollen, radiated through her like the blinking flashlights of a police vehicle....

Emmet deserved it because he had rubbed her own shoulders so insistently that the inappropriateness of his gesture was obvious even to the stooped [Chinese] senior citizen across the street whose eyes turned away from the scale where he had loaded some [banana]s....

Emmet then inhaled, puffed up his chest, and then exhaled, deflating like a weary [balloon]...

Emmet's hands ceased to rub and rested on her shoulder for a few seconds before they cooled down enough for him to remove them safely. His hands felt like ashes for those couple of seconds and he had to wait for the last spark of the flame to fizz....

As she listened to Emmet, Marie reached her hands into her hairbun. She then rubbed her fingers in the knotty threads of hair that felt as thick and dense as squishy wet mud.
And I'm not even clear what the story is? That the guy went to jail because someone thought he was "sexually harassing" the girl because he was rubbing her shoulders too much? It seems like you repeat the details too many times.

You're not writing for yourself, but for an audience. It has to make sense.
posted by delmoi at 1:46 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I imagine all kinds of details: things on walls, hallways, how bodies look and move, clothes.

Some people like that kind of thing in fiction. Personally, I don't, but I know people who love it.

It turns out that I have an overly "cinematic style."

It sounds like this is just 1 comment you've received (I doubt that many people would use a phrase like that). It may be that that person doesn't like your style but others would.

They also would prefer me to get rid of most of my descriptions

I'm just wondering (in my very much inexpert way) if you are writing for the wrong audience. Some kinds of stories are very necessarily plot oriented, others not so much. It really depends on what you are trying to write. And of course, there's that old maxim, "write what you yourself would most like to read".
posted by DarkForest at 2:10 PM on July 27, 2007

Marie usually avoided talking to Anne because she was a quiet, wallflower type who stuck to Emmet at parties and would hardly talk to anyone else. She was surprised that Anne found her [telephone number] and had enough guts to call her and confront her. It was the first time she heard that emotionally collected and calm woman get angry. But she wouldn't have none of the guilt. After all, it wasn't Marie's fault that Emmet had feelings for her. Anne should have gotten the hint that things weren't going smoothly in the relationship after he refused to accompany her to the [tango] club. He had put up with hours of her tireless dancing for months, but the week before he told her point blank that it was both too exhausting and too boring.

-- "Marie usually avoided talking to Anne"

This is just okay. When reading about characters, what draws us in is action (which doesn't necessarily mean "action" as in "action films," it means a character is doing something to achieve some end, and that could be as simple as searching-through-the-fridge in order to quell hunger), and "avoid" is an action. But it's pretty generic. There are a million ways to avoid someone. You like description, so why not use that love in service of the action?

(None of the following examples fit into your story -- they're just for reference) How about: "Marie always hid in her office when Anne walked by" or "Marie always fiddled with her handbag when Anne walked by."

SPECIFICS in service of actions.

-- "she was a quiet, wallflower type"

This is also vague. You're telling rather than showing. As a reader, I don't want to just know information. I want to FEEL it. I want to get that same irked feeling that Marie gets, and I can't get that just with the information that Anne is shy. Anne must DO something specific that irks Marie!

How about "because Anne mumbles when she speaks" or "because Anne never meets anyone's eye."

You can get away with occasional exposition, but at least accompanying it with some nuts-and-bolts detail: "Anne was that shy type that blushed and cleared her throat before speaking..."

-- "...who stuck to Emmet at parties and would hardly talk to anyone else."

Again. This is the right direction, but it could be so much more evocative. What exactly does "stuck to Emmet" mean. I know what it MEANS, but it doesn't conjure up a sharp image.

"Anne ... followed Emmet from the kitchen to the terrace and back to the kitchen again."

I won't go on and on. Hopefully, you get where I'm going. Stories about about people trying to achieve various goals. Various obstacles get thrown in their way -- sometimes from other people trying to achieve conflicting goals, sometimes from internal conflicts (e.g. Fred's goal is to have an affair, but guilt is an obstacle.) People do actions in an attempt to overcome obstacles.

As you describe these actions, make sure you do so using SENSUAL DETAILS. We experience the world through our five senses. So write to evoke them. Write to make the reader see, hear, taste, smell and touch (or to feel like he's doing these things).

But NEVER add gratuitous sensual detail. A detail is gratuitous if it doesn't help describe how a character is carrying out an action or an obstacle to him doing so. (Of course there are exceptions to this, but it's a great general rule.)

I think it's fine for you to start with description. Every writer has a different way of starting a story. But then use your descriptions as fodder. Hang them on actions -- that you work out later. And if you can't find a use for a description, trash it (or file it away for some future story). You know the drill: kill all your darlings.

All good writers steal. If plotting actions isn't your forte, steal plots from someone else. Your version will be original because you'll dress it with original descriptions. "Forbidden Planet" stole its plot from "The Tempest."
posted by grumblebee at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2007

My critique about your linked sample: The rhythm of the writing strikes me as "sing-song." It almost reads like a list of events, rather than a flowing narrative.

This is something that happened.
This is another thing that happened.
Another thing happened after that.
And another person did another thing.

The edited version is a little tighter, but it still lacks any hook to draw the reader in, and it doesn't seem to flow or allow connection to the characters. If you can't relate to the characters, it's impossible to care. If you don't care, you won't read. It just comes across as somewhat clinical. Try varying sentence lengths within a paragraph.

I don't advocate using as few words as possible, necessarily. After all, part of reading is the enjoyment of how the words fit together, and spring little surprises on us. In addition to writing more, I would suggest reading more. I am partial to Ray Bradbury's short stories, because he has a way of setting a mood pretty quickly, and he doesn't necessarily go by "the rules."

Just to pick on one paragraph:

"So what if his girlfriend broke up with that sweaty panting loser?," Marie thought to herself. Emmet deserved it because he had rubbed her own shoulders so insistently that the inappropriateness of his gesture was obvious even to the stooped Chinese senior citizen across the street.

In this paragraph, "stooped Chinese senior citizen" may be too few words. It's too generic, yet it may be the most visually interesting part of the passage. Plus, is the gender of the senior citizen supposed to be hidden? Not specifying gender is distracting. The gender is revealed in the next paragraph, but this seems to foreshadow that the mystery of the gender may be important. Apparently it isn't but it distracts from the actual point of the paragraph.

I am no expert, and this is just off the top of my head, but here is one of many ways it could be done:

Marie had no compassion for Emmet, the sweaty, panting loser. His girlfriend had broken up with him, and he deserved it! The inappropriate way he had rubbed her own shoulders was obvious, even to the dim eyes of the bent, old Chinese man across the street.

This may not be the best way, or even that good, but I think it makes the point that it's not a matter of how many words are used, but using the right words in the right way to help the reader experience the story. For some reason, your paragraph feels like work to read. When a reader is working hard to figure out your meaning, they lose interest. There has to be a payoff for the time invested. If the reader is investing more than they are getting back, they become non-readers.

Good luck. Keep reading. Keep writing.
posted by The Deej at 2:31 PM on July 27, 2007

Elmore Leonard's Rules of Writing.

Most relevant here:

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
posted by futility closet at 2:52 PM on July 27, 2007

This works pretty well for me as an exercise: just think up a brief scene where something happens. It could be an exchange between two characters, or something involving only one person, or anything that has some type of progressive action in it. Think of every detail that might give the reader greater insight into the events or personalities that are on the page, whether it be the clothing of a character or the graffiti on a wall. Write it down in list style. Now, narrate the action, and without mentioning explicitly a single one of those things you've listed, write it such that the reader will be inclined to imagine roughly the same exact scene that you have.

This is probably something that will require an outside proofreader to really nail, but it'll help to streamline your writing and make sure that all the important details are expressed as a function of what takes place. People like action. When you lay down details as a way of framing the reader's interpretation of the events that follow, they're forced to compare those details against what happened to really get a gist of how the plot is progressing. This isn't to say that readers don't like to think, but rather, that performing this comparison is a lot of work for fairly little payoff. If you bundle it into a more a tightly-wound, event-driven thread, your reader will instead be able to think about the more abstract implications of your writing. This is important unless you write romance novels or schlock. :)
posted by invitapriore at 2:53 PM on July 27, 2007

It's kinda funny that so many people have decided to pay attention to the first paragraph of the story. I just threw it in there cause some people suggested that I add character background into the story to help define the 3 characters. It might be better off getting read of that first paragraph altogether, since it's just about a bunch of cliché and unspecific "biographical/historical" info about the characters that isn't specific enough to be interesting.
posted by gregb1007 at 6:39 PM on July 27, 2007

To be honest, I think the problem isn't that you have too much description, but that your description isn't pointed enough. It feels... un-seen, like you haven't really looked in your mind's eye at *precisely* what is going on. To take one of your paragraphs as an example:

"Emmet was flying up the stairs like a mad sparrow."
Hmm. Since in the next line he is panting, and later on he is sweaty, is he really flying like a sparrow? What does "mad sparrow" mean? I guess if I imagined it I'd think of someone moving quickly but erratically? In general, similes *really* need to earn their place by being just perfect, not just OK.

"As he panted while running up the stairs, the dust on the banisters settled on his broad, green-sweater covered shoulders."
Because he was rubbing his shoulders on the banisters? How many flights of stairs were there? Is dust from higher-up floors falling down because he's making the stairs tremble with his running? Also, green-sweater covered is just clunky. "On the broad shoulders of his green sweater," is cleaner. And how is the fact that he's panting making the dust settle?

"Leaning against a banister on the top of the landing, she didn't seem intimidated."
Hmm. You could do with more here. Is she outside her apartment? Or, an apartment? I can't really see these stairs yet. Are they open or closed? A utility stairwell or an ornate 19th century spiral staircase? Since this scene is happening in the stairwell, you could give yourself a few words to describe it.

"She smeared a new coat of lipstick on her lower lip and wiped up her purple-stained eyebrows."
Well, as you're mentioning the lipstick, you might mention the shade. In fact, the shade can serve instead of the word "lipstick". "She smeared a new coat of scarlet on her lower lip". And... her eyebrows are purple-stained? She's wearing makeup on her eyebrows? Is she... a punk? Because if so, that would be interesting and you should tell us. Do you mean eyelids? And she's wiping them up? I'm not sure what that means. She's wiping off the purple? With what? Her fingers? (this is interesting and tells us something about her) A pristine white handkerchief? A piece of torn lavatory paper? All these are character points, in fact.

I guess... look deeply at your scenes. Visualise every detail. Understand that you don't have to tell us everything, because we want to construct some of it ourselves (this is part of the pleasure of reading fiction.) But if you *know* everything, you can pick out the salient details and give them to us.

Also, don't give up. Good writing comes from lots and lots and lots of hard work. Also, take a look at how your favourite writers construct scenes and plots and so on. Don't force yourself to make plots too early, if they're not coming right now and what you want is to make vignettes, that's fine too. When plots are ready, they'll come. But if you want to write descriptions, make them the best descriptions you can.
posted by acalthla at 4:18 PM on July 28, 2007

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