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Hi Eric, yes, - horses for courses. In your example we need to know what the poor man has suffered.

I've probably said this already but I think there are two points to descriptions, including those of scenery, machinery or anything. 1) whether some particular detail is needed. Often it isn't but sometimes it is. 2) The author has to take into account three points of view: the character's; the reader's (what do they need to know and what will be their interpretation of what's said); and the author's (what do I need to say to drive the plot and the characterisation, and - if relevant - to provide an example of the theme of this scene or story.)

Writing = mental gymnastics.

I don't see a difference either. It's the same problem even if some expressions of it appear more palatable than others.

I agree but in Faulks' case I'm not sure that's what's happening. Most of the report is from a journalist rather than him but he seems to have used feedback to review his approach. Assuming the quote is his real words, he says, 'Instead of getting all huffy and puffy and grumpy old man about it, I thought about it a lot.'  This seems the right thing to do and presumably that's why he told the audience about it. Of his novels I've only read Birdsong, and so long ago I can't remember details, but I've heard him on the radio a few times and he comes across as generous with descriptions of how he writes and how he sees craft issues. 

I also don't know how the article obtained the quotes from Bernadine Evaristo and Dawn French but if I'm reading the article correctly they're on different topics from Faulks' reappraisal of how he describes women. They overlap but they're not the same thing. I think we're seeing journalism in action rather than useful lessons from successful authors.

I've just liked my own post by mistake. Thank you to the genuine likers!

Hi Eric, I'd say the appearance of most characters in most novels and short stories isn't described but their circumstances and actions let us form a picture. Age, gender, ethnicity, social class, clothing choices and the time they're living in - needless to say, all those things can be referred to and it's often not what an author says but the way they say it which provides the main impression. Or the way they get their character to say it, as part of that character's personality.

If I'm looking for a general guideline it's to ask the needs of the novel/story and of the reader. Obviously some characters require a bit or quite a lot of physical description. Jack Reacher's height is relevant, as is the height and width of the MC in Kevin Barry's short story 'Last Days of the Buffalo'. Some of this man's clothing is described too but, this being a Kevin Barry short story, nothing is extraneous to the needs of the story and reader. (Also, KB can be critical, comic and very sympathetic towards his characters all at the same time. That's the kind of skill I can only dream of :-) )

As a reader, the only time I've really needed more physical description is in some novels with two or three POV characters and all of them the same gender, ethnicity, social background and roughly the same age. I've noticed it more with first person narrators, when it can be a challenge for a character to describe even a small detail of their own appearance without the writing being clunky. But I'm a visual reader and I've just wanted something - anything - to distinguish the characters and stop me producing some generic image which could fit any of them. 

As as writer I can see the physiques and clothing of all my characters and the detailed faces of my main characters. I'd definitely recognise them in the street but I know many authors don't want to or need to do that with their creations. In my writing I try to describe only the things I need to. Whether I'm successful is another question :-) 

Don't worry, Janet - I know you're busy. 

I haven't read Binet's counterfactual history though I'd like to. I'll probably get to it at some point but not this year. Too many books on the reading list already! 


Overwriting: we're eagle-eyed on Townhouse. Stick around and words will be cut mercilessly 😉 

I'm sure your novel isn't crap. It may have weaknesses but you've learned a lot. Keep writing and keep reading.

HHhH is a brilliant novel. As Janet says, one reason it's so good is that it questions, among other things, the whole idea of how to write an historical novel. Its asides are part of its metafictional approach.

Did you read it in the original French, Janet? I can't read French but I thought the English translation by Sam Taylor was excellent.

A couple of first thoughts, R.J.. 1) The song question is a different kind of thing from 'I don't know about you ...' The song is the narrator/songwriter being self reflective, talking or singing to themself and staying within the boundaries of the song/story. The aside to the reader is breaking the boundary. 2) I'm sure that like any unusual writing technique, asides to the reader can be done if they're done well enough. But I'd guess it's a hard thing to carry off. The only example I can think of straight away is The Catcher in the Rye, and maybe I'm wrong with that. I can't remember it well enough. Satire appeals in a direct way to the reader -- American Psycho for instance. But simply addressing the reader head on -- certainly give it a go and see what you think. At the very least it would be an interesting experiment..

Hi Ben, as you suggest, you could go for 'John had protested when Jack first starting mocking him.' 

An alternative could be 'When Jack first started mocking him, John had protested.' 

I hope this helps a bit.

I love the sense of a widening and deepening world as the story develops, especially this paragraph:

"It was a stranger’s home quite suddenly, a place of furtive whispers, and the creeping sense of guilt at some intrusion."

Terrific atmosphere.

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