Monday, December 8, 2008

The Framing Theory - how to be gifted at descriptive prose

Years ago I was quite obsessed with descriptive prose. How had some of my favorite authors managed to capture places and views that only I had seen? (I have seen places where no other human has ever been. It is a rare and wonderful drug and totally addictive. Don’t even try it once unless you are prepared to give up a large part of your income and possibly your health, welfare, and even life to it.)

Then I read Tolkein’s ‘On Fairy Stories’. And finally I understood just what these masters of prose were doing. The reason they were doing such an awesome job of describing things which existed in my memory was that they hadn’t. They’d got me to do it for them. Naturally I got it just right (for me, anyway).

This is another one of the tricks of the trade, folks. You can of course describe a scene minutely... and then you’d better try to never get it wrong in way. Or you can provide sufficient cues and let the reader draw that perfect valley/mountain/ forest in his head. The frame needs to be evocative, to draw on the five senses, be precise and sharply accurate and... leave the minutiae to the reader. Set the limits, fill in a few pointers, and let them do the rest.

Try it. It takes a bit of practice to do well, but it can be learned. And look for it, now that you know it is being done.

Don’t blame me if ruins your belief in an author’s descriptive skills for you.

Dave Freer


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

True, you can draw on what people know. And with traveling, movies, TV and the internet we've all seen things that our grandparents would never have seen.

But what annoys me is when authors use technical terms for things, which throw me out of the story because I don't know what a doo-hickey is on a modern yacht. I only need to know that the character knows how to put up the sails and steer the yacht, unless the details of this are going to have a bearing on the plot.

Cheers, R

Mike said...

Hey, Dave, is this a comment on John's concerns about the fine art of erotic, porn, and other sexual descriptions? It does seem related - evocative, engaging the senses, precise, sharply accurate -- and leave the minutiae up to the reader's imagination. That avoids the blatant explicitness of pornography, while allowing the reader to invent the finest erotica they can dream up.