Most of us have favorite authors, and different authors write with different styles.
One piece might be filled with elegant metaphors and prose (like Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue), while another is stripped down and finds expression in sparse words. Neither is “right” or “wrong,” it’s simply a matter of preference.
As writers and readers, we all have to experiment and discover what really works for us. I’ve read a number of styles that I enjoyed, depending on who wrote it and how it was done. I dig Atwood, but I also love me some George R.R. Martin, and they are very different from each other.
Barebones or lush, the execution can change everything. Here are a few examples of things that often help me get into a story.
Ground the reader by laying down a line or two of crisp environment.
I really like when an author goes beyond “trees” or “sea” to give me an idea of what makes these particular trees stand out, or this particular ocean. If you go to the Black Sea, you’ll find it looks very different from Venice Beach, which is vastly different from the numerous and varied shores of Hawaii. Give me, in brief words, the color of the bark; the pine, sycamore, aspens or what have you, so I can better see the woods around me.
Hit at least a few different senses in your piece.
Most stories utilize sight, but smell carries so many emotional connections for people. Give me more than a generic term. Read other writers and notice not only what sensory notes are heavily used, but which senses are underused. Give me something kinda unique, but familiar enough that I can immediately get it! Not just the waft of pine, but the rot of mulch underneath, and the yeasty tang of the broken beer bottle at the edge of the campsite.
The Little Details –
Sometimes honing in on a detail can make a reader fall right into your world.
As writers we tend to enjoy building these large contraptions of worlds — galaxies — universes!!! Forgetting the feel of vinyl under our fingertips, or the bright yellow drip of sap catching the morning sunlight. Even better if you utilize a detail that captures and reflects the mood of the Point of View; or that of the setting/ piece.
The Tension of Tenses –
Think about the specific emotion in each section of your piece.
I really appreciate thoughtful prose, that which exploits the various effects of language. Ask yourself what you want the reader to get/ feel in a given moment, and what version of a sentence or phrase best represents your intent.
Consider for example: “She wandered through the woods. In long steps, she became lost. She grew sleepy as the air turned dark.” Or: “Wandering through the aspens, taking long steps, she became lost. The air turned dark. She grew sleepy.”
Don’t be afraid to play with sentence order, punctuation, tense and word order. Discover the way changing things alters the feel of the moment. That is: with each change, discover the impact on the ambiance of a scene! (hehe) Even moving a comma or dropping the -ing can shift meaning, pacing and atmosphere.
Le(s) Mot(s) Juste(s) –
The RIGHT WORD for the *right* time.
Similar to considering phrasing and word order, each word carries associations.
Use the word that fits, especially if you are trying to put the reader in the perspective of a character. Maybe “transliterate” is a great word. Yes, I love it, too. BUT! Is it a word your POV character actually knows? Does it lend to the mood of the scene?
What about Shadow versus Shade versus Darkness versus Tenebrous… how about Light versus Incandescence versus Luminosity…? Does Giant feel different than Massive, versus Gargantuan?
If a word is too “technical” sounding, it might not have the right sensibility; unless that “technical” sense is perfect for that moment! By the same token, a poetic word with the right phrasing can elevate your story. The Thesaurus is your friend!
There are many things you can do to make your writing more beautiful, depending on what “beautiful” means to you.
Read lots of stuff. When you find something you like, go back and figure out what just happened.
Talk to other people about what gets them into a story. If it’s different from what draws you (or me) in, that doesn’t make it “right” or “wrong,” it just makes it interesting.
Even if you aren’t a writer, as a reader, knowing what really gets you excited about a story will help you find other stories to enjoy.
No matter what, find what fits you, have fun and get the most out of what you do. Good luck!