Friday, August 26, 2011

Substance vs Bling in Story Writing

Recently, my hubby upgraded his phone to the latest snazzy model. I have no idea what it is except it has a whole bunch of new features. He loves his technology. I struggle to get excited by it. If the old one works, why upgrade it? (I know, I’m such a luddite).

However, my hubby has convinced me to take his old phone: an iphone 3G. The most exciting thing about this upgrade? I get to take off his boring black cover and replace it with a shiny new one with bling. The more dazzling, the better. The curious thing is, it wasn’t until he started telling me about all the features that I started to love this hand-me-down.

My point? While bling on phones, in my opinion, is a good thing, the real appreciation won’t emerge until we discover a greater function. The same goes with writing. Sometimes I can get lost in the fancy descriptions and the amazing settings. I’ll make the wording pretty for the sake of pretty. This isn’t a good thing. Without substance, the shinies of our stories can drag the pace down. They can change the focus from where we want it to be.

Every word, sentence, paragraph needs a purpose in our stories, whether to add atmosphere, set a scene, reveal something about a character—and it’s even better when it has more than one purpose. If a description or dialogue is included for the sake of it, it has to go.

Do you struggle with removing the shinies? What are the kind of features that distract you from a story when you are reading or watching a movie?

43 comments:

  1. I am a sucker for shiny new tech toys!! Can't wait for the new iPad next year. Extras in my writing - that doesn't happen too often since I'm not heavy on description. Getting better though!

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  2. I know I've used shinies where a less-flashy description or turn of phrase would have worked much better. I hate to see them go--if it's something I think I might be able to use again I save it in a document.

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  3. My writing style is so sparse, I have to go back in during revision and ADD description. If I'm reading a book with too many shinies, it takes me out of the story. I have to read and re-read passages until the perfect picture emerges in my head. At times I can't visualize things and it drives me nuts.

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  4. I do love me some bling bling!
    And I love both fancy descriptions and amazing settings :)

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  5. I have struggled with being enamoured of what I believe to be shinies in the past. :)

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  6. In a movie I love atmosphere, which I guess is bling.

    In books, description either needs to be short and to the point, or folded seemlessly into the action so as to become invisible. Otherwise I find my eyes glaze over a bit.

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  7. I'm more like Angelina. My writng at first tends to be so sparse I have to go back and add the bling. ^^

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  8. I have waaay too much descriptive language and 'pretty' things which makes my story REALLY long! Awesome post!

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  9. Oh I have diamond encrusted shinies on my first drafts - always!! I have to prise them away much as I love being dazzled by them! LOL!

    Awww love your analogy - bling is fun though! Take care
    x

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  10. Well, there's bling, and then there's B-L-I-N-G.

    A little dazzle is good. No one wants ordinary. But, yeah, moderation in all things.

    Enjoy the iphone. :)

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  11. "The shinies." I love it! Thanks for the smiles.

    Linda

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  12. Yes. I struggle with removing the shiny's. An even more frustrating situation is when I struggle to identify the shiny's in the first place.

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  13. Really wonderful writing can be bling for bling's sake, and I love to read it. (I'm talking about other's not my own LOL)

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  14. I totally agree, that's why word count is so important; it gives us a limit to work in and it helps us make every word count. Great post! Enjoy your new phone!

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  15. My husband is the gadget guy. I don't even own a cell phone. I want to be free of all the bling. I've worked hard over the years to free myself of it. Sometimes a shiny thing is nice here and there, but nothing gaudy. Great post!

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  16. Part of me loves gadgets, but the other part is stubbornly refusing to get an iPad or even an iPhone... hehe. My phone is one of those simple 'punch in the numbers & call' deals. I don't surf the net with it or anything. Not sure I want to be trying, what with how tiny the screen would be!

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  17. Hi, new follower here. Like Angelina, my writing style is pretty sparse--I've had editors tell me they had no idea what my main characters looked like--oops! I agree, that if something is in the story just because, it needs to go, but I appreciate details or "shinies" that characterize or deepen the story. They just have to serve a purpose.

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  18. As a writer, I typically have to go back through to add a bit of bling. As a reader or movie viewer, anything that goes overboard can distract me too much from the story. I like to see or read something different or extra beautiful, but not when more was put into accomplishing that than writing an actual story.

    As far as technology, my husband is a total tech geek. I joke that he's the same sort of superhero as the techie bad guy in Sky High and I'm his arch-nemesis since I destroy technology just by virtue of being in the room with him.

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  19. Great post. I think each writer will have to create their own balance. I'm still working on blinging up my stories.

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  20. I'm sorry, Lynda. I would've read your post--really, I would've--but I was distracted by all that shininess...

    *grins* Okay, I did read it and it was fabulous as always. ;)

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  21. My phone cover has rainbow flowers on it. :) I think what I dislike while reading and writing is wordiness. I often have to make myself elaborate on descriptions because wordiness bothers me so much. Just get to the point already and stop going on and on about the breeze and what it's doing to your hair.

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  22. When I'm reading it's def. sections that don't seem to directly affect the plot or too-long descriptions. I will skim or eventually put down the book.

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  23. For me, I usually don't add the bling until the end. But, I just love you described it in this post. My husband is the same as your husband and wanting the new stuff all the time.

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  24. Such a good point! I remember a writing teacher telling us that, whatever our characters did, whatever we put in our story, there had to be a reason - we didn't necessarily have to make that reason obvious to the readers, but it had to be there. I've always struggled with having too many adjectives - they're the shiny and I am the magpie! Lol... I'm getting better at trimming the fat, but it is hard.

    What tends to distract me is lack of clarity, either in the language/words the author uses or in the storyline. That's why I have such a hard time with "classic" authors (think Shakespeare, Dickens, even Tolkien). Even now, I sometimes have to re-read a passage two or three times before things finally click and that gets annoying. The second problem I find more in movies - I'll be watching and then something totally unexpected and inexplicable will come out of the blue and I'll be all: "Huh? Why did THAT happen? What's going on? I don't geddit..."

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  25. I like sparkles- but that kind that faintly glitters and you can only really see if you catch it out of the corner of your eye or are really looking for it. In writing I like a few gems but not too much. :)

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  26. I love the bling, too! And what a great analogy to writing. Everything must have purpose. Great to always be reminded. Thanks, Lynda! :o)

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  27. I like shiny new things. In writing too, I enjoy the shinies and bling-bling but not to the extent of foregoing the story. It has to have a purpose.

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  28. Yup, I love to put in shinies during my first draft, but usually by the second or third go I've weeded out the non-essentials.

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  29. Very nice the way you used the phone metaphor to set up the need for substance after the excitement of the "chrome" wears off.
    Thank You.

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  30. Man, do I suffer! When my beta readers nail my "blingy" parts I just about die while I delete those shiny lines. However, when that wrenching moment has passed, the book is better for it.
    I <B by readers and since I trust them the "bling" has to go.

    Great post.

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  31. I've never been the flashy type. I do love atmosphere in a story though. Anything that alters the focus away from the story isn't good.

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  32. Usually when I write, I write flat, comeback trim it more,and file it down, then I go back and add the bling. But then bling is what I do. Maybe too much? I'm new at blogging and other than a couple mag articles never tried commercial. I'm not even sure that my bling is what you are describing.

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  33. This is why I follow and always come back to your blog! Great, incisive, informative posts! Hmmm, I wonder if I add enough bling. Sometimes I feel I come up a little short on the descriptive. Definitely a work in progress for me.

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  34. Psst... there's something for you on my blog today. ;)

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  35. Great post!

    For me over-description is a no-no. Why take 25 words to describe something when you can do it in 15? Why describe every little thing in exquisite detail? Just get on with the story!

    Ellie Garratt

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  36. I love to elaborate, and that’s not always good… but, I can revise out too much info: rather than trying to add it later. It works best for me that way, at least it lets me see it clearly and be in my world more fully; hopefully that equates to deeper feel for the reader.

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  37. I love my iPhone3 - except the silent doesn't work properly (and this seems common amongst this version). I didn't go blingy - I got a clear cover and printed up a picture of Snoopy typing to put underneath.
    I am keen to upgrade, I love the tech, but I'm hanging out for the iPhone5 :)
    <a href="http://clancytales.blogspot.com>Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers</a>

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  38. The "shiny" that can make a story or a movie either fantastic or painful is an atypical narrative style, POV, etc.

    Memento is a great film example of where an atypical approach worked to great effect.

    In fiction, things like writing in second person, or having the story be entirely composed of text messages, or some other unusual approach can either destroy a story or give it extra glow.

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  39. I love shiny new things. Love them. I didn't realize I could love an inanimate object until I got my Kindle, and then I got an iPhone. You are right though, eventually the shiny part wears off a little and you discover the true value - or not.

    What pulls me out of a book or movie the most if a vividly captured element that isn't carried through. If you are going to take the time to make me fall in love with something, it should have it's own story within the story.

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  40. I love shiny new things and technology? I love embracing new gadgets and learning about them!

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  41. Oh my, serves me right for taking a mini break. I have much catching up to do.

    Thanks so much for all your comments. I'm surprised and heartened by how many people like the occasional bling.

    I will visit all of your blogs as soon as I can

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  42. As someone who likes phones and all sorts of smart gizmos, I can relate to this and so it is in writing. I struggle to remember that I should simplify my writing. Going through on ms now and getting rid of all the stuff that don't belong in there.

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