Love, Death and Magic



Three places where the prose slows down: love, death, and magic.


Editorial is often about paring things back. It might mean removing unnecessary words, sentences or even paragraphs which seem to slow a story down. It could mean reducing dialogue or scene-setting description, or taking out backstory, or even excessive character detail. Mostly, what happens after this process is that the story is distilled into a more potent essence – it’s the same, but a more powerful version of itself. If a writer can say the same thing in fewer words, the prose generally reads with more pace, which increases the drama, and keeps the reader on board.



There are specific times when the ‘cutting back’ rule doesn’t apply, though. In these places, the reader needs more detail. These are points in the story when things become emotionally heightened for a character/narrator. To paint stress, danger or intense emotion vividly for the reader, it means taking us into that character’s heightened perceptions: everything becomes amplified; colours become brighter; sounds seem somehow louder; time slows down, and the minutiae stand out. The character observes fine detail around them because momentarily, they can’t filter it out. In real life rather than in fiction, these are the kinds of things which remain stamped into the memory years after they’ve happened. As writers, we need to recreate this in the detail we put on the page. 



In novels with a strong magical, science fiction or supernatural element, a narrator might witness something truly awe-inspiring in terms of futuristic technology, wizardry, or the occult. These kinds of scenes require more detail, too. Often, in aspiring debut novels, writers neglect the layering up of otherworldly or fantastical elements. The prose might rely on describing TV-style special effects (‘she vanished in a cloud of smoke and blue lightening’) or it might announce something summarily and expect the reader to take it on board without question (‘I suddenly heard a voice in my head’). These are the bits which need building up with layers of sensory detail, with attention to colours, textures and sensations, adding unusual or original word choices wherever possible. 



It’s easiest to think of all this as the love, death and magic rule. If you find yourself writing about any of these things, include the fine detail. The chances are, it will help the character to bounce off the page. 



I’ve blogged about avoiding visual fiction as an influence for written fiction, here.


March 2023



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