Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Writing advice from Janet Reid

For the NaNoWriMoers out there:

Character revealed vs character described

Many of you are embarking on a new novel for National Novel Writing Month. Good luck, and don’t query on 12/1!

I thought today might be a good day to share an example of character revealed versus character described. The example is from the New York Times Metropolitan Diary.

Description that works.

Just after three in the morning, Sam Dryden surrendered the night to insomnia and went running on the boardwalk. Cool humidity clung to him and filtered the lights of El Sedero to his left, the town sliding past like a tanker in the fog. To his right was the Pacific, black and silent as the edge of the world tonight. His footfalls on the old wood came back to him from every part of the darkness.


When you continue reading you’ll see that the light, the quiet, and the sound of footfalls all reappear in the story. This is not only lovely writing, we need the information for what comes later.

It is indeed lovely writing, and I enjoyed this book — Patrick Lee’s Runner — very much.

Overused words

We all have word tics. Mine is just. It jumps off my keyboard into blog posts with frightening frequency, and often not noticed till the third revision. I can tell the blog posts written and posted in haste: they’re just full of stuff.

Ok, that was a witticism. I know you all spotted it.

But let’s use it as an example:

They’re just full of stuff.
They’re full of stuff.

Which is a stronger, leaner sentence?
Which says exactly what you want to communicate?

There is no rule here, there is only your keen eye.
This is the keen eye you get from a close reading your first/second/third/Nth draft and paring out everything you don’t need.

I will add, in absolute terms, there is no such thing as a “stronger” sentence. If you are writing dialogue or from the close pov of a character who tends to be verbose, than the version with “just” might be superior for that character.

Steven Brust is a good writer to look at for this kind of thing. I suggest Freedom and Necessity (written with Emma Bull) to see how totally different the sentences are for different characters — and of course one could also compare the sentences from Five Hundred Years After versus from the Vlad books.

Incidentally, have you all read Vallista? What did you think? I just finished it last night, and I have three primary comments about it:

1) It’s a fun book, but

2) Totally a pause in Vlad’s actual story. It doesn’t move his own overall plotline forward one bit. I did find that disappointing. Also

3) It was entertaining how Brust opened with a play on the first line of Pride and Prejudice and closed with a play on the “Reader, I married him” line from Jane Eyre.

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2 Comments Writing advice from Janet Reid

  1. mona

    It was interesting to read the comments on Janet’s post– there were a lot of different takes on the character in the piece she quoted. It’s amazing and enlightening what and how much the reader brings with them.

    I just read all of the Taltos and Khaavren books except Dragon (which I can’t find, except as an ebook so I’m waffling) in the last two weeks or so! I’m looking forward to reading Vallista, but good to know in advance that it doesn’t solve anything, so to speak.

  2. Rachel

    Mona, I didn’t read the comments till you said this. Now I’m totally on board with the theory that the super never watched a minute of the security videos — that he’s covering either for his wife, as suggested, or else he stole that bathmat himself.

    I really like Dragon! I’m chuckling just remembering bits of it now. I think you should track down a copy or get it in ebook. Though I have to say, it won’t matter a bit to Vallista, except in one throw-away line where Vlad or Loiosh refers to the events in Dragon.

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