Being Christmas time, I’ve started rereading the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. In doing so, I’ve pulled two, I think, important writing tips.
First is a writing technique I use frequently. Repetition.
Repetition can be utilized to bring emphasis to a subject or object without dragging your brain through an obstacle course of painfully difficult adjectives. For instance: “Her stomach ached for attention, growled for attention, demanded her attention.”
Here we see that repetition plays two separate but not independent roles. First, it stretches out the idea of the growling stomach. This may show her growling a long time before she finally gives in and eats. Second, it points out the relationship between her and her stomach without using words your reader may have to look up. Not that big words with great efficacy (see) are bad, but it slows many readers unnecessarily.
Repetition is a common orator technique. Don’t believe me? Listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous speech closely. All his important points are driven home with repetition. I knew this but thought it was bad to use it in my writing. I felt like I was trying to just add word counts and fill pages.
But Dickens uses repetition frequently. Then I realized, I’m a writer, a written speaker, a storyteller (see how nice that works?). Why should I NOT use this communicative tool?
The negative thing is, repetition can KILL your story too. For example: “She rubbed her stomach. She could not understand why it hurt. She then realized she did not eat breakfast. She proceeded to find something to eat.”
OUCH! She She She…SHEESH!
Second technique I realized from reading Dickens again was a writing tool I rarely utilize and need to START using. Creative descriptives!
What do I mean? Creative descriptions that are so colorful, so down right strange that they paint a brilliant picture only Rembrandt could do with oil paint. For example: “Her heart beat quickly while she hid behind the door.”
But how about this: “Her heart punched her breastbone over and over as she hid, stone still, behind the door.”
Much better right? Not only do we know her heart is racing, but we get a sense, like a horror movie, that she can hear her heartbeat (so can we as the reader). Unlike the bland first example, we the reader can hear this heartbeat and feel that same anxiety tearing through our own chest.
Dickens does this with such color, such power, that you cannot help but get the most vivid image of whatever scene he is drawing for his readers.
This, I have to say, is something I struggle with. In the past, I have always considered flowery adjectives to be unnecessary fluff. I hate reading books with overly adjective-laden descriptions. Now, rereading A Christmas Carol, I’m reminded of the necessity of well used adjectives.