Air Wavy Dudes and Devils in the Details

One of the things I’m dealing with in my current editing run of my novel is descriptions. When it comes to descriptions, I tend to err on the conservative side – at least as far as my current POV character is concerned. One thing I tend to forget, though, is that just because I can picture it all in my mind’s eye doesn’t mean the reader will. My narrator rarely describes anything in long-winded terms unless he’s making a specific point, and if I don’t keep him in check, he’ll give me pages of dialogue interspersed with beats of smiles, gestures, cigarettes and coffee mugs – while conveniently forgetting to mention what the person he’s talking to looks like (even if it’s their first time on the page).

My current technique for handling this without overloading the narrative is the trick of relevant details. In the paraphrased words of Chuck Wendig, whose writing advice chimes with me very frequently, if one of the chairs in the room is broken, that’s the one I want to hear about, I don’t care about the rest of the chairs.

Here are some examples of descriptions that I sprinkled into the story during my yesterday’s edits.

The machine coughs two pre-war dollars’ worth of coffee into a paper cup. It tastes like it’s overpriced, but gets palatable after three sugars.

The garage work floor is a familiar symphony of smells, concentrated after being locked inside for the night: grease, solvent, new tires, and, without fail, the shockingly chemical banana air freshener over the break room door. Inside the break room, the coffee is still kept in the bottom cupboard, and coffee filters, in the top.

I spend most of the hour dragging various junk out of my bedroom, aka the closet under the roof. Gary leaves his office to observe the pile growing on the work floor: a couple wooden pallets, an empty toolbox, some cracked jerry cans, a bright blue air wavy dude missing an arm…

P.S. Fun fact: the official names for the air wavy dudes include “air dancers,” “skydancers,” and “tube men.” Google’s suggestion guessed what I was looking for as soon as I typed in “air wavy.”

Photo by Lynn Friedmann

Inner Critic Investigation, Day 7

The week of prompts has reached the end, and I can’t believe how eye-opening it has been. It’s not like I didn’t know the things my inner critic has been saying, but the main breakthrough, for me, was being able to separate this voice from the rest of my thoughts, and acknowledge that it’s up to me to heed or ignore it.

Now, for the last time, the recap of the questions I’ve asked my inner critic this week:
Day 1. What’s your story?
Day 2. What are you trying to protect me from?
Day 3. What do you treasure?
Day 4. What should I be doing instead of working?
Day 5. What makes you happy?
Day 6. What’s the worst thing you have ever done?

Now for the finale:

Day 7. How to annoy your inner critic: a list

– Write random stuff for fun, even if it doesn’t end up being a project

– Set/move other people’s deadlines to accommodate for your own projects (they’ll live, I’ve checked)

– Turn down projects that you don’t have the time for

– Make art without making a big deal out of it

– Take pride and pleasure in your work

– Submit your work to markets and competitions way out of your league (and within your league as well, if you want to)

– Take care of yourself

– Listen to your body’s and mind’s needs, and act on them

– Get up and go to bed at the hours that make your day productive, not when productive people are “supposed” to

– Reach out to people and make connections

– Ask for help

– Clear up things you don’t understand, ask questions (no, you won’t ruin your reputation)

– Look for writing advice if you feel like it

– Apply or ignore such advice as you feel appropriate in your given situation

– Go with your gut

– Be vulnerable and real, screw “what will people think”

– Write blog series like this one

Inner Critic Investigation, Day 6

Questions asked of the inner critic, archive and background:
Day 1. What’s your story?
Day 2. What are you trying to protect me from?
Day 3. What do you treasure?
Day 4. What should I be doing instead of working?
Day 5. What makes you [the inner critic] happy?

In today’s question, it’s terrifying how easily the answers came.

Day 6. What’s the worst thing you [the inner critic] have ever done?

I’ve made you settle for things and remain in situations when you were unhappy, unsatisfied, and thought you deserved better.

I made you let people string you along, whether that meant continuing to work for the guy you knew wasn’t going to pay you, or waiting on the editor who had obviously ghosted you after promises and unanswered emails.

I made you wait for months before demanding answers from another editor who strung you along before admitting their operation was going bust and they weren’t going to print your book. I’d also made you stick with them in the first place, despite their poor communication and long wait times, instead of letting you look for a different market (because it’s a miracle anyone at all wanted your work, you’d be a fool to look for anyone better).

And I also made you stick with that nightmare of a gym trainer who had no idea how to work with you and gave you all the wrong advice, even after you’ve injured your back in her program.

Because when things don’t work out for you, it’s only ever your fault. You don’t deserve better!

Inner Critic Investigation, Day 5

Only one left after this, and it’s a biggie, so I’ll be tackling it tomorrow.

Archive and background:
Day 1. What’s your story?
Day 2. What are you trying to protect me from?
Day 3. What do you treasure?
Day 4. What should I be doing instead of working?

Day 5. What makes you [the inner critic] happy?

I like it when you go with the safer option. When you pull your punches while writing, instead of going with your gut. When you stop to think about how you’re presenting yourself before you speak your mind. When you don’t jump to create once you’ve got an idea because you think you need to mull it over for longer.

When you wait for the right time, the right conditions to create. When you rewrite the same paragraph for an hour, even though it’s not for a final draft.

When you start a project and then abandon it because you think you don’t have the skills to finish. When you don’t even start on a project because you’ve been taught to never start what you may not be able to finish.

But most of all, I love it when you look at your to-do list on any given day, and put other people’s projects before your own. You’re really good at that.

…eh. When she’s right, she’s right.

Inner Critic Investigation, Day 4

As soon as I’d read this day’s prompt, my inner critic shouted “trick question!”.

Archive and background:
Day 1. What’s your story?
Day 2. What are you trying to protect me from?
Day 3. What do you treasure?

Day 4. What should I be doing instead of working?

Nothing! You should be doing nothing BUT working, knocking out two, three thousand words a day, and also blog regularly, and promote yourself on social media, and don’t forget all those comic conventions!

Write more, write fast, because you have other story ideas in your head, so get the current ones out and start new ones, faster, faster.

All this ‘working for a living’ business – screw that, you can’t possibly consider yourself a serious writer if you don’t do it full-time. Who cares if not having a steady income messes up your mental health? Art should be your life, suffer if you must, become a starving artist if you have to.

If your life is too comfortable, you’ll never create! Art must be the only worthwhile thing in your life, otherwise you’ll never be motivated!

Write, and write some more, you’re not allowed to do anything else. If you’re not working on an art project, you’re wasting your time. Every step you take must be in service of your art, of your goals, of success.

…And this, ladies and gents, is what happens when you take life-long perfectionism, add a business education, and multiply the result by a mid-twenties decision to become a writer “for real”. I think I’ve got material for another blog here: the fact that I’ve had so much more fun creating before I decided to “get serious about it.”

(Oh, and the starving artist thing? Don’t get me started. Anyway, Chuck Wendig has a good piece on that.)