Muddle Me This

I don’t often post links to other writing blogs, but I enjoyed this essay on bookbaby ( The number one enemy of the writer, blogger Dawn Field suggests, is unclear thinking. If you don’t envision the details of a scene clearly, how are you ever going to describe it to your readers? If you aren’t clear about why your characters are doing whatever they’re doing, not only will your characters likely be flopping back and forth on the page like a loose fire hose, you won’t know how to describe their actions — with gentle verbs, with angular verbs, with hesitations or without, and so forth.

It’s a tell-tale, and I’ve seen this sort of thing in more than one novel, when the writer describes a room by saying, “There were three or four portraits of ancestors on the wall.” Or perhaps “three or four straight-backed chairs” or “two or three French windows that opened on the garden.” That writer has not envisioned the room clearly. It’s not hard to count the chairs or the portraits! The result is vagueness.

That may seem a trivial example, and it is, but if you find yourself writing that sentence or anything like it, I hope you’ll pause and take stock. Do you have the details of the scene firmly in mind? If there are ten or twelve portraits on the wall, then fine — vagueness is appropriate. But “three or four”? That’s lazy writing.

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