On adding flavor to your short stories and novels
I love to cook, pulling the spices together to season things just right and adding some wine…and a little more wine, hmmm maybe a little more wine…until everything tastes delicious.
There are a few strange cases of people who don’t care about flavor and for whom eating is just another task in their day, but for a vast majority of us – flavor makes all the difference.
But how do you spice up a story?
Oh my… Well yes, adding key scenes can add some <ahem> spice, but trust me, even that isn’t quite enough to sate a reader’s appetite
1. Descriptions and what they always say to us – “more show, less tell!”
Duh, right? Of course descriptions and the “showing” add to the reader experience. But how do you add in character descriptions, without side-tracking or pausing the story?
Should you describe them right away?
John walked in the room, his dark brown hair nearly touching the ceiling. <Leesha’s thoughts: Hmm…either this is a tall dude or he has truly amazing hair.>
Is the description from an omnipotent narrator’s view of the character or through the eyes of a character?
Linda laughed at John’s joke and Jen couldn’t help thinking how much she looked like a horse neighing. <Leesha’s thoughts: That’s not very nice, Jen.>
My personal style for descriptions:
I tend to not list out all of my character descriptions right away. I’ll do it here and there, but mostly I tie it into the action.
For example from the novel I’m working on:
Natalie’s natural c cups were aided with a boost from a push-up bra and a low-cut pink top that threatened to spill tanned skin from its conﬁnes. She handed a mojito to Lydia, breasts jiggling under John’s nose, and made her best attempt to purr, “hello John.”
Ha. At least I amuse myself, but I am trying to show you a fair bit of information while giving a tiny description <a dash of seasoning> of a character.
It’s not necessarily the right way to do it – I very much doubt that one can argue the “proper” way to describe characters anyway (as rules in writing/art are meant to be broken), but it’s my preference. Take from that what you will. :)
2. Local flavor also known as – prove that you know what you’re talking about
If you’re writing about a known location, it adds some credibility to the scene and story if you can add tidbits that make it more real.
How do you do it?
Well, if you live in the general area, it’s pretty easy to add in detail to give your story a little extra credibility, otherwise – TRAVEL! :) Well, or what most of us do – armchair travel from the comfort of your very own home and laptop. Yay for research! Research is a super effective way of adding detail into your story. Especially if you’re working on historical fiction and can’t travel back in time because, well…science.
You can also draw from every day experiences or memories from your past. Do you have a local bookstore or diner that you love and can describe? Well then, why not add it in? It adds some flavor and authenticity to your descriptions.
What I do:
I generally go the route of places I’ve actually been/lived or have researched (I don’t write a lot of futuristic/world building pieces, so my knowledge base there is nil).
The novel that I’m working on now takes places in the greater Washington DC area (where I live). Because I’ve lived here for a few years, I know some things about the area – like different areas in DC, how traffic stinks, the different roads/highways, and what happens here during the summer – two words: tourists + sweat. :) But more than that, I know amusing stories about the area, like the adventure of Rusty, and I put it in my novel (whether it makes the final draft is another story completely).
How do you add flavor to your stories?