Saturday Snippet – Advancing Story Through Description

On Saturdays or Sundays, you can check out a snippet from my latest writing efforts.  All snippets are copyrighted.  These excerpts from my writing are first draft, unedited words, and may not appear in the final work.

It’s been a while since my last post, during which I’ve been diligently working to finish the last few remaining scenes.  Many of my fellow writers are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, but I will have to pass this year.  While I do have a fair bit of writing planned for November, my current writing goals involve getting this book edited, polished, and published by the end of the year.

My current writing efforts have involved fleshing out scenes, adding setting descriptions, and trying to nail down the right title.  The latest contender is “Dark Empire.”  I’d like for the title to tie to magic, which is linked in this series to the phases of the two moons circling Andoth.  Since magic is banned in Worvanz and is viewed in color by the mages who use it, “Dark Empire” appears to connect the main setting to the main conflict.  I’ll have to savor it a bit longer to decide if it’s the right fit.

The more interesting aspect of what I’ve been working on is setting description, or world-building.  While I’m writing a first draft, I have a nasty habit of keeping all descriptions to myself and assuming readers can see the pictures in my mind while they read.  Going back to add color, sight, sound, and smell to a bland reference to, for example, the Imperial University sometimes can feel like I’m shoveling boring description down the reader’s throat (although all my beta-readers assure me I’m not), which I like to avoid at all costs.

One way I’ve found to add description while reassuring myself of keeping the reader’s interest is by providing descriptions that pique interest and could advance the story in a later scene or a later book.  Here is the latest example from my freshly added description of the Imperial University campus:

Enraptured, Arna watched the towers as they continued past, while Del’s gaze darted over the hills seeking out other memories.  Her breath caught in dismay when she caught sight through a gap in the trees of the vast stone wall surrounding the Imperial University. Crumbling in many spots, its massive iron gates hanging lopsided off their hinges and rusting, the wall no longer glittered with heavy layers of spells.  Del distinctly remembered how the stones had sparkled like gems from the volume of protective magics the university mages constantly casted.  Up close, for she had studied them carefully as a girl, the individual stones comprising the wall were actually dark gray, veined with deep red ore.  Mines far to the north supplied the unusual stone, which sold for more than its weight in gold because of its unique magical properties.  What those properties were, Del had never learned, but she recognized in its use the profligacy of the Imperial family, who had spared no expense building the finest structures of the most exotic materials just as they had never curbed their enthusiasm for any outward displays of wealth and comfort.  While the towns around Luden were buried in snow, feasts at the Imperial Palace included tropical delicacies imported from lands far to the south and carefully ripened in greenhouses along with impossibly delicate flowers brought to Worvanz by fortune-seeking explorers.  The emperor had a long-standing policy of richly rewarding those who brought to his court the most exotic specimens of plant and animal life.  Del remembered visiting the Imperial Menagerie as a child but feeling sad for the birds forced to remain in their cages, trapped not by the bars but by the very climes they could never hope to escape.

This description is rife with potential conflict and story, none of which I really need in Book 1, but which may come out to play later in the series.  Some of the opportunities, in a paragraph of just under 300 words:

1) The mines where these stones originate must be a pretty scary magical place, and the miners must be some spectacular kind of brave.

2) Conflict between Del and her Imperial relations related to their different views about how the imperial wealth should be used

3) The adventures of some intrepid explorer traveling to the farthest reaches of the world in search of some exotic treasure, and the troubles he found during that quest.

4) A unique property to one of the plants or a special quality to one of the animals in the menagerie (dragons, anyone?)

In addition to the potential stories in this snippet, other places in the story where I mention the Imperial University hint at more events that occur there and provide a richer canvas for Del’s story.

Do any of the potential side stories I’ve mentioned resonate with you?

2 thoughts on “Saturday Snippet – Advancing Story Through Description”

  1. Preeti,
    What do I have to do to become a beta reader?
    As far as the potential stories are concerned: I may not know enough about the story to follow all your logic.
    The third and fourth possibilities are easy to see, though I expected the animals to lean more towards the emotional connections than special qualities, but there is the freedom to get creative with the qualities.
    But you didn’t lead me to the first one with this snippet combined with the previously posted ones.
    Magic to me isn’t necessarily scary, so without more information I believe most And while I can imagine that the way the Imperial family handles wealth is in conflict with the person you described Del to be, people will see the mines the stones come from as a place of power. And while all mining requires an amount of bravery, I think the qualities I would subscribe to the miners would be strength, and wisdom to trap the magic in the stones.
    And while you don’t need the conflict on the distribution of wealth in this book, I think you might want to start the set up of that conflict by showing Del’s disapproval of it now. It makes it more believable later.
    As far as description is concerned: When they are as interesting as the snippet you provided and can be used later in the story, don’t worry about boring your readers. But don’t worry too much about details you leave out. Most readers I know have a good enough imagination to fill in the blanks. You really only have to worry about the descriptions when it is important to the story that the picture in their head matches the one in yours.

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