Tag Archives: writing

A Word on Symbolism

I once had an English teacher in high school who told us that Hemingway himself had said there was no symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea. But then she turned to us and said, “He’s full of crap! It’s just filled with symbolism.”

English majors are notorious for pulling things out of their asses. (Sorry for those of you reading this who were English majors). Every English paper I ever wrote in high school and college was some bullshit symbolism that I pulled out of thin air and the teachers ate it up like hot cakes. If the author says, “There is no symbolism,” then there was no symbolism intended. However, anyone can make comparisons and call themselves an expert.

When it comes to putting symbolism in your book, don’t try and force it. In fact, I wouldn’t even try to put it in there at all. If it comes naturally in the process, go for it. But don’t fret over symbolism. Readers are going to draw their own conclusions regardless of what you say.

It’s all a matter of perception…

You could write something and say that it was meant to symbolize one thing, but if the reader thinks something else, then hey- opinions are like assholes, right? Everyone has one.

I have spoken to many aspiring and novice writers who talk about wanting to add symbolism to their story to make it more meaningful. Symbolism is not what makes the story meaningful. What makes it meaningful will be different to everyone who reads it.

This is as much of a piece of advice for you as it is for me. Just write the damn story. And don’t put too much weight on what others think otherwise, you’ll never get it done.

Happy writing and good luck!

-RB

Character Description: Use TMI

I once read somewhere that you should never write more than three lines of description when introducing a new character. While extra bits of description can be added amidst dialogue or thrown in throughout a scene. Keeping it to three lines is a general rule of thumb for when you first introduce someone new.

The reason for this is so you don’t overwhelm your reader. A big, wordy dump of information is difficult to absorb all at once. But the real question is- how do you go about picking the perfect three lines? How do you decide which character attributes to hone in on when you first introduce?

A great technique I learned to help you focus on the three perfect items or lines is to use too much information or TMI. Right before you introduce a new character, right down absolutely everything you can about them. Write a terrible description. Write everything you know. Be wordy. Once you get everything out on paper, you can start picking through your words to find the most important and identifying qualities.

Most likely you’ll focus on things that set this character apart from the rest. You want your readers to have a distinct view of who this person is. As human beings the first thing we notice about another person is their appearance. It’s human nature. It’s natural. Were not going to know about the lilt of their voice if we’re not talking to them yet. However, if we only see them from across the room, we might notice a bit more than the color of their skin or the color of their hair – those are obvious.

Help Define Your Character with Description

Other things that help define who a character is can be reflected in the way they walk. Perhaps they have a limp? Or maybe they have a scar above their upper lip? The way someone dresses can also reveal a lot about who they are, what they do, their income, their social class, even possibly their education.

In a way you almost have to think like a detective. Look for things that aren’t necessarily obvious, such as gender. It’s not very interesting to say, “Sally was a girl with blue eyes, red hair, and white skin.” Sometimes we can tell a character’s gender by their name. [I say “sometimes” here because science-fiction, fantasy and young adult dystopian novels make up a lot of names.] It’s almost an insult to your reader to spell things out for them. Also, most people with red hair have white skin and fair colored eyes. This doesn’t mean that there is a place for these obvious descriptions to be inserted somewhere in the story if you feel it should be in there. But someone’s hair color doesn’t tell you a lot about who they are as a person.

Another thing to consider is how you would want an author to describe you. Would you like them to describe you generically (i.e. He was a white man with a comb-over). That doesn’t tell us much. That doesn’t even really tell us his age because I know young men under the age of 30 with receding hairlines.

Again, you can pepper some of the more generic descriptions throughout the scenes. But when first introducing them, try to write down every possible thing you know about them and narrow it down from there. It will allow you to capture their distinct image in such a way that it entertains the reader with your language but also cements in their mind how this character stands out from the rest.

Utilize Real Life for Character Description (Things to Consider)

If you’re not sure where to start, start with someone you know. How about the biology teacher who wears a patch over his left eye? The man who pirates freshly released movies and walks around with an actual parrot on his shoulder? Does the character have smoker’s lines around their lips? Missing teeth? Gold teeth? A service dog? A tiny chihuahua in their purse? Are their shoes polished and shiny? How shiny? Is there a pep in their step? Any noticeable tattoos? Piercings? Do they wear a wedding ring? Which hand is it on? (Some religions and nationalities wear their rings on another hand or not at all).

You might also consider what they are doing when you first see them. Are they riding a horse? In a business meeting? Are they alone? In a group? An orchestra? A choir? The list goes on and on. It takes all kinds of people to make the world go ’round. Which kinds of people are you writing about?

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received

The most important piece of writing advice I ever received is to read. Sounds crazy right? Believe it or not, when I was younger, I hated reading. I had enjoyed it for a time when I was allowed to read what I wanted. However, school ruined my love for reading.

How School Ruined My Love of Reading

Forcing children to read certain books is a horrible way to get anyone to appreciate literature. New books for young adults come out every year but school systems usually stick to the same outdated classics. Yes. I understand that they are classics for a reason. However, an adolescent or teenager doesn’t have the same appreciation for classic literature as they would something written for the Modern Age. Leave the classics for adults who have more life experience.

As a teenage girl, I didn’t give a rat’s roasted rectum about The Red Badge of Courage. I really wasn’t even that into The Outsiders. And I most certainly did not have any interest in Wuthering Heights. In fact, I didn’t rediscover my love of reading until I started the Harry Potter series in the eleventh grade. At that time several of the books had already been released and a movie or two had been made. It was something I could relate to. It was far more personable and pulled more at my own emotional strings then Les Miserables, something that I appreciate more as an adult.

The Best Writing Advice: Want To Be a Better Writer? Read!

As someone who is highly independent, free-spirited, and who loves freedom and autonomy, finding books that work for me and beginning to write my own stories is what allowed me to learn what I wanted to, at my own pace.

The best writing advice I ever received was to read. I saw a quote that said, “Reading is like breathing in. Writing is breathing out.” So when I find myself struggling to write, I make myself read. I pick up a book, any book, and I begin a new story. I’m inhaling others’ thoughts and experiences, digesting them in my mind, and then letting those ideas flow from my fingertips on to a new page into a new form.

For those of you who are aspiring writers, don’t just read what others force you to read. Find what you like and devour it. Breathe in so that you can breathe out.

Happy writing!

-RB

Write Out of Order

In the spirit of the Camp NaNoWriMo that’s going on right now, I’d like to piggy-back onto my previous post with some short, sweet advice. If you’re stuck and you don’t know where to go next in your story, write out of order! Or maybe you do know what comes next but you just aren’t feeling that scene today, or this week… Write out of order!

Start in the middle of a scene. Write the ending first. Focus on a plot point that’s further along. Skip around. You can always come back to where you were. Maybe start a fresh page or a fresh document! One of the beautiful things about art is that there really aren’t any rules. Sure, there are guidelines. And obviously, you want a final draft to be polished and edited- you want to put your best foot forward but there it nothing that says you have to write a story in the order it should be read.

And don’t be afraid to mess up! After all, that’s what rough drafts are for. Throw it all out there onto the page so you can sift and sort the treasure from the trash in the future drafts. In a rough draft, you can’t make mistakes. They simply don’t exist at that time.

Now, go write something!

-RB

Chapter Length: How Long Should It Be?

Recently, a co-worker expressed interest in writing a book. This individual turned to me one morning and asked, “So, how do you know how long a chapter is?” I thought he raised an interesting point and decided it would be a good topic for a blog post. Sometimes, after we’ve been writing for a while we forget some of our original questions – questions we had when we were first starting to write. To be honest, I hadn’t given chapter length much thought for a long time.

In reality, a chapter can be anything. Some books and stories don’t even use chapters. Instead, they use sections or parts. Others use both. You could have a Part 1, 2, 3 and 4, each with chapters inside of them. Some stories have long chapters that include several different scenes, some include one scene, some are just part of a scene that’s really long and so the author decided to split up the story at a cliffhanger to keep you reading (because the end of a chapter if often used as a stopping point).

In other words…

There is really no specific guideline for chapter length. I’ve read books where some chapters were 30 pages long, and some were a single page (within the same book!) Don’t be afraid to switch it up! Your book doesn’t have to be uniform or symmetrical in chapter numbers. Don’t think too much about how many chapters you have or how long each chapter is- just tell the story! Once everything is on the page, it will become easier to see where you want to divide your writing.

And there you have it. Short and sweet. When it comes to chapter length, there are no rules! Just write your story and if it needs to be split up, you will be able to tell naturally where that needs to occur. Don’t worry too much about it. Just write!

Happy writing!

-RB

Cover Art by Canva.