(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: The Archers’ Bows Have Broken by Brand New)
This one actually does originally come from a James Patterson MasterClass tidbit, but I don’t want to house what will almost certainly turn out to be a rant in that otherwise unmarred bounty of wisdom.
In one of the MasterClass modules concerning research for a project, Patterson says something to the effect of “When you’re writing third person limited perspective, be careful about which parts of your research you’re putting into that perspective. If the person would really notice the architectural features of a building, that’s great, but if they wouldn’t, don’t put it in just because you researched it.”
(Despite the quotation marks, that is hella paraphrasing, so please excuse me. Also for the use of the word ‘hella’.)
He brings up a great point – your research should not be spewed all over the reader like cat vomit, especially not from the perspective of a character who has no right knowing about such things.
This is where Patterson ends, and the rant begins.
My least favorite thing I’ve ever seen in writing (mine or anyone else’s) is when characters do something that they *clearly* wouldn’t do just for the sake of [plot device/badassery/description]. You have this wonderfully ignorant sailor who’s spent her whole life on a boat? HER INNER MONOLOGUE SHOULD NOT BE ABOUT THE VARIOUS SPECIES OF TREES IN THE FOREST SHE’S JUST STUMBLING ON FOR THE FIRST TIME.
As an alternative, she might say, Wow, who knew there were so many different trees here. Who knew the land could be as interesting as the sea?
But dear lord, if she starts noticing that a deciduous tree is out of place in this coniferous forest and, as a result, finds a trapdoor under the roots of an old oak, you know I’m gonna lose my shit.
That may be a way over-the-top example, but I see littler, still egregious errors in writing all the time. You have a character considering the minutia of something they would never really notice, just so you can get a point across. For instance, a self-centered character should not pay as much attention to the other characters’ reactions to situations as you might want, just to drive a point home.
The place I find this happening most often (in my writing especially) is in internal monologue. It’s really easy when you’re writing descriptions to just get carried away with the scenery and start expounding on the beauty of the outdoors and the wonders of the natural world. But if your character is a sullen city-slicker, that just isn’t what they’d be thinking. Instead, they’d probably be staring daggers at chipmunks and swatting at tree branches (which makes for some fun and unique descriptions through action).
Here’s an example I really like from a project I’m currently working on:
“Buildings rose from the horizon with every step they took. In the changing morning light it looked almost as if the Arietta was igniting, its glimmering steel surface reflecting the sun’s rise in a spectacular clash of pinks and yellows. Qin had heard tales of the beauty of Imperik, of buildings that rose towards the sky as if to conquer the clouds. She’d tried and failed to imagine such grandiosity.
Now it stood before her.”
This isn’t just description – it’s description through Qin’s eyes. We feel her wonder, her excitement, in a way that a character who’d been born in Imperik might never see. In fact, an Imperikan might see these same buildings as dull compared to the palaces they’re used to.
Just do me a favor please, writers – get into character before you start writing as your characters. Nothing they think or say should ever be anything less than authentically them. And when you write that way, it doesn’t just make your descriptions and dialogue more interesting – it makes your characters three-dimensional.
Yours, late for D&D and signing off in a hurry,