Precise Writing

11th century
Image via Wikipedia

These posts are a bit more daunting that I had anticipated.  What on earth do I use as an example?  Of course I had intended to use my WiP, but how am I supposed to know what constitutes good or bad writing in my work?

Oy vey! That’s a topic I’ll tackle some other time, but now, let’s get back to the task at hand.

In the Writer’s Digest article titled 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day, Mr. Jack Heffron offers his advice on being precise.  Here it is:

2. Precision
In the study of traditional Chinese painting, the term hua long dian jing speaks to the need for precision. It translates roughly to mean, “Dot the dragon’s eye, and it comes to life.” In other words, your subject remains inert until you add the precise detail that brings it, in the reader’s mind, to life. Often when we finish a draft, we feel the piece somehow isn’t working. Our writing group says they found it dull in places, or just “didn’t get it.” The culprit is often a lack of precision – the key, specific details that bring the world of the piece alive.

Develop the habit of dedicating time to reviewing your work with precision in mind. How would that scene change if you add a sweet tang of honeysuckle to the breeze? How might this character change if you fasten the top button of his shirt? Henry James told us that writers are people “on whom nothing is lost.” The key to successfully creating or conveying worlds for our readers is painstakingly observing those worlds, and then scribbling down the precise details that tell the story.
—Jack Heffron

What exactly do both Henry James and Jack Heffron mean by scribbling down the precise details that tell a story?  Are we to write everything in that room along with our protagonist and antagonist?

No, that can’t be right.  If that was true, each book would be astronomical in size.  What we want are the details that tell the story.

Here’s a scene in my novel in which Andreas and Pedro find themselves in an inn’s room together.  Andreas has just gotten back from seeing the informant, and he’s to be notified he has to share the inn’s room with Pedro, who stole his fiance.

He opened the door to his room and froze.

Pedro sat on the bed, his bare feet propped up on the bed with Andreas’ sketches laid out on his lap.  He looked up at Andreas, a bemused look on his face.  “I thought all marranos could do was make money.”  He held up one of Andreas’ landscape drawings from one corner as if he handled a dead cockroach.  “Now I see you are all artists as well.”  He allowed the sheet of paper to fall to the floor.

Andreas took a step into the room, his hands itching for his crossbow.  He glanced about.  The bow still leaned up against the wash basin where he had left it under the window.  Pedro sat on the bed to its right, facing the door.  Andreas crouched to pick up his sketch.  As he rose above Pedro, he asked in a calm voice, not wanting that man to know how perturbed he was, “What are you doing here?”

Pedro swooped up the remainder of Andreas’ drawings, swung his legs off the bed, and stood to face Andreas.  The same height, their gaze locked as he held out the stack.  “It appears we have to share the room.”  He glanced down at the bed.  “Since you got to sleep on the bed last night, I’ll take it tonight.  The floor here doesn’t look too dirty.  You should be fine down there where all the other hediondo judíos belong.”

Andreas snatched his sketches from Pedro’s hand, hitting the man’s knuckles as he did so.  Balling his hands into fist, ruining the drawings he made in the past few days, he took a deep breath as he prepared to fling his own insults.

“Ah!  I see you have meet your room-mate.”  The woman of the house said as she entered.

He turned to see the smiling mistress.  She faltered at the look on his face, “Is everything all right?”

The scene goes on to show that Pedro eventual blackmail Andreas into hunting for the bat specimen for Pedro and not for himself and his family’s interest.  But, what I wanted to also show in this scene is how hot and cramped it is in that room and that the tension between them is visceral.

I didn’t achieve that.  What details would show heat?  Sweat does that nicely.  I can add a phrase that Andreas is sweating or stinks or, even better, that Pedro stinks.  I could also have the window in the room open, letting in a warm breeze that did nothing to abate Pedro’s stench.  Or something like that.

As far as it being cramp in that room, I can have them bump into each other as the innkeeper pokes her head in to see if all is well.

I think both those things will amp up the tension between them and show how uncomfortable Andreas is with having to share the room with Pedro.

What say you?


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