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Writers – Why You Should Sweat the Small Stuff

Author/Editor Annette Youngby editor/author Annette Young

As a writer, you have to build up a vivid picture for your reader. You might have a definite plan in your mind, but unless you can transfer those thoughts and paint those images with words, capturing them forever within the plot, your reader will not grasp the story as comprehensively as you would like.

I am lucky where I live in that the Pyrenees Mountains provide a huge source of inspiration for me. I look out of my window and I see snow-capped mountains, I turn my head in a slightly different direction and I see the rising tower of a church spire peeking from the green shrouded scenery of a small French village opposite me. I am surrounded by the picturesque scenery that provides me with the inspiration I  need, someone else might become inspired by being surrounded with people, or dynamic architectural designs that form complex concrete structures. It doesn’t matter where you are or the things that you see, being able to immerse yourself in your own environment is the most important aspect as is, having the technical skills to relay this information in a compelling way to those who read your work.

I went for a walk the other day, climbing higher into the foothills and I followed little roads that meandered through farmland and valleys. Having re-developed my love of bird-watching, my idea was to see as much wildlife as I could but as typically happens when I walk, I start think. I think about new characters, settings, possible locations and create descriptive scenarios in my mind. At one point, mesmerised by the clusters of striking flowers that adorned the hedgerows, I thought about the work that goes into creating just a small passage in any book. Importantly, it has to be accurate and revealing. There’s no point my just writing about yellow flowers, it means nothing to the reader really, I would have to say the clusters of vibrant flowers that rose on stalks from the rough and tumble grasses and how the Great Yellow Gentian draws the eye to its significant form.

A writer should always check their facts too.Find out what month a particular flower blooms and to ensure that they do actually grow in the location chosen. It’s important because someone is bound to know and as a writer, you can lose credibility if you get it wrong. Similarly, if I say I watched as a kestrel hovered high over the freshly cut crops hunting for prey, I have to ensure that in my area, kestrels are resident. Although this is a fairly safe bet, there will be examples that are revealed as obvious mistakes if you are not careful.

This is especially important if you are writing about a particular place. I remember providing published novel samples to my writing students at college one day. The excerpt was  from one of my favourite authors and I loved her descriptive passages that held the power to conjure up balmy summer nights, or dreamy beach scenes in tropical island paradises. At least I did until one student said that those particular flowers described did not bloom during those months. She knew the area well and was adamant as a gardening enthusiast that she was right and who am I to argue the point? It certainly gave me food for thought. Creative licence goes a long way but for a little bit of research, a fictional novel can still be accurate and actually come alive for the reader.

So do I think writers need to sweat the small stuff? Absolutely, especially if they want their work to seem credible. We all want to possess the writing skills needed to paint vivid imagery with our words, so why not take inspiration from the world around you, or at least, do the necessary research if you are writing about an area that is unfamiliar to you? It can make all the difference.

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  1. Keith Channing June 11, 2014

    Here in the Auvergne the scenery is also a good source of inspiration, as are the changing faces of agriculture during the year. It is also quiet enough to allow for some excellent thinking time, whilst walking the dogs. My current WIP (OK, my first) relies more on memory and research, as it is based, largely, in a part of East Africa where I spent two years in the 1980s. As elements of the story have connections with current day events, research takes on an importance as great as, if not greater than memory.

  2. Annette Young June 11, 2014

    Thanks for the comment Keith. I haven’t been to the Auvergne, but some quiet time is wonderful, although here there is always some background noise, birds singing, the sound of tractors in the distance and even the whirring of my brain once it gets going. It’s always difficult to rely on memory but, memories can form a great starting point backed up by meticulous research. Research can be time consuming but I now quite enjoy that aspect of it. Good luck with your writing projects.

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