If you’ve ever read Charles Dickens, you will have noticed that he often goes on and on. And on. And on. The most well-known reason for this excessive time spent on description is that Dickens was paid by the word. Therefore, like so many college students after him, he tended to expand upon each point to a nauseating extreme.
These days, articles or short works to be published in magazines may have a required word count, but short stories and longer works are more flexible. A writer is paid by the article, by the story, by the book, etc. Waxing eloquent is more or a less a thing of the past and is often frowned upon now. Breaking from your story to describe your character’s face in great detail is seen as a faux pas rather than literary.
But don’t let this stop you from waxing poetic.
Description, lyrical and flowing description, is a powerful ability of words. Every story needs it, just not quite in the way you might think. In most cases, the way you spend time describing things in your work depends on the context. Sometimes it makes sense to stop and describe a character’s eyes for an entire paragraph, the lines around the edges, the creases of the skin, the freckles that seemed to cross the bridge of the nose from one eye to the other.
Timing and relevance is all-important. Think of these moments as detailed close-ups in movies; they don’t work all the time, but sometimes they’re like pulling the audience back to the reality of the character within the flow of the story. Don’t hold back from focusing on these moments. In rewriting, some of these glorious poeticisms may be cut from the story, but some may turn out to be nicely timed gems.
Dozens of well-meaning advisories will disagree. But your drafts are your own.
Dickens it up.
You might just discover something new in your writing style.
We’re not psychic, or very few of us are, and, if we were, we wouldn’t be focusing on that random woman’s baby name list while the world is ending in several natural disasters. We don’t know what futuristic names would actually be like and that means ‘futuristic’ name suggestions are either gibberish versions of current names or just no significant change in names, in most cases.
For near-future fiction, set in America for example, it makes sense for a good chunk of the population to have those gibberish names like Jessielle or Skyleigh because that’s a trend happening now, as is the extra respelling of original names (as in from Ashley to Ashleigh) or pop culture inspired names or even names with extra vowels and more obscure consonants (Xzavier or Ayla come to mind). Fiction set in the next 100 to 200 years should match some of the current baby name trends, especially for older characters, and then a reasonable extension of that for the generations they created. For fiction set way further ahead, it’s not a predictable kind of variable. But that doesn’t mean we should always expect the future to come with men named Liyam and women named Jexa.
Of course, this all depends on how ‘realistic’ your fiction is. If you’re set in some fantasyland far far away, where current real-life names don’t even matter then that’s all a moot point. There are, however, rationalities to be considered. While tossing out a bunch of scrabble pieces and writing down whatever comes up may seem like a thoroughly original thought (it’s not), it will produce more gibberish and less character.
For Pity’s Sake, Consider Your Reader
Xionamus Azander may look bomb on your computer as you type but who the heck is gonna want to try to pronounce that? Out loud? Multiple times? In excited discussion? Remember that ‘Hermione’ was enough to baffle many readers when Harry Potter first came out. If you’re going the extreme Scrabble points route, take pity on the readers and give the dope a nickname at the very least. Xionamus can become Xion – because I’m sure even his parents would get very tired of saying ‘Xionamus.’
Consider the Consistency
You probably shouldn’t name the male character Xionamus Azander and surround him with a red shirt named Smith, a love interest named Amy, and a dog named Spot (bonus suck-points for just foreign language names like Juan the red shirt, Aika the girlfriend, and a dog named Tache). There needs to be consistency. Not all the same kind of names – like not all variations of Xion or Azander – but similar enough to be reasonable in your setting: Xionamus Azander, with Melba Kase, Tray the red shirt, and Dax the dog. Melba Kase may not be as extra as Xionamus but they sound like people more likely to find each other in the same room than Xionamus and Amy do. However, a woman named Amy could fit in a different kind of future, with people named something like Fry and Hermes.
Don’t Get Caught in the Void
Remember that your characters are people, not walking spelling disasters. Don’t get caught up in extravagant ridiculous names and forget to build & explore the actual character. Xionamus Azander sounds great but it’s just a name unless you remember to write him. Whether he’s a space captain with a love of hot dogs and a fear of insects or a kid who dreams of exploring the ocean and hates sweaters, Xion is a person you’re writing about and should be treated as such. They’re not just little pawns with gibberish names who just have something happen to them and then it’s fixed and then it’s all good and Xion has saved the day (even though it was probably really Melba). So don’t write them that way. Otherwise, this story is really going to suck.
Prompt updates! Here are the latest bauble word prompts, added to baubles posted over the last few years. Have a Bits & Baubles suggestion? Contact us with the bauble number and your suggested bit!
“The James, at Lake & Honor, welcomes our luxury guests to this exclusive all-inclusive weekend. Be sure to check in at the front desk – we wouldn’t want any… oversights, would we?”
“Look at that.” “What?” “He’s… Well, he’s smiling.” “He was laughing only a few minutes ago.” … “We’ll have to find his fiance.” “What? Why?” “He was getting married, Miss Jones, I’m sure the bride will want to know he’s dead.”
“Has she done this in front of an audience before?” “What do you mean?” “Radio talents don’t always hold up on stage. I just want to be sure of my… investment.” “Don’t you worry, Mr. Connor, I’d say your investment is safe.” “It had better be, Mr. Reed. It’d better be.”
One of the other girls found her and assumed she had passed out drunk. The champagne bottle nearby was empty and no one questioned it until the governess tried to wake her up. She was dead and everyone panicked.
She paused as she reached out, the jellyfish pulling back from her. The group glowed with a soft blue light and shimmered as they floated around the room. She took a deep breath, partially to steady herself and partially to prove to herself that she wasn’t dead.
“It almost feels like your real wings, I’m sure.” His words echoed in her mind with every step as the golden feathers brushed against her bare skin, every touch a reminder of what he stole. It was a game, but she refused to play by his rules.
The smoky ring swirled over him and the deserted road, as if it knew he was the sole witness. Who else could he tell at two in the morning? No one. But he knew, from the twisting knot in his gut, that someone needed to know.
“What?” Her hand wavered over the girl’s ear. The girl shrugged and started to walk away, but she grabbed her arm. “What did that mean?”
The girl smiled at her and said, “I get it. She chose you for a good reason, didn’t she, Violet?”
Violet tightened her grip, searching for the meaning behind the girl’s words. She let go: “I don’t know what you mean.”
She wasn’t quite queen yet, but no one was particularly surprised by how eager she was to inherit the crown as her father became weaker and weaker. Her stepmother was furious but didn’t dare speak out for fear the princess’ wrath would fall on her too. Survival outweighed common sense in this court as everyone waited for the coming storm.
The energy throbbed around and through the outer hall, emerging at the back and dying off as it reached the front, with small sparks and a whine. The observer stood at the deck rail and carefully avoided the walls; they eyed the semi-hidden door in the smooth wall surface, taking a deep steadying breath.
“Let my hand be steady, my heart be strong, and my mind be firm.” The blade shone dimly as it wavered in her hands. With a deep breath she lowered her arms and gazed through the mist. “Today is a dark day. I’ll be fighting the fear before I even reach the battle.”
To the crowd, they were pretty bows. To her, they were part of a high-fashion straitjacket, and the people who forced her into it weren’t going to let her out any time soon.
The sheer fabric over her eyes did little to obscure their route through the building. She supposed it was purely ceremonial, until she noticed the other girls voluntarily keeping their eyes tight shut.
Stay tuned for more prompt updates!
Newest updated prompts – new bits for each bauble!
Talons scraped the rock, snow breaking away as the hands sought the long engraved sigils. Whisperings and hissings poured over the stones and soaked the air around this quiet place.
He paused, glancing in either direction before approaching the fence. No matter how quick I thought I was, dodging behind the wall at the corner, my heart skipped a beat and I knew his eyes met mine.
Each step made her toes more froze, and each step seemed to make her heart beat louder, and each step was another leap of faith. She didn’t see anyone, not even the person she was expecting to see, and she started to worry her heart would pound out of her chest.
“How did you steal the matches?”
“I traded for a box of cigarettes.”
“How did you get a box – actually, I don’t wanna know.”
“You really don’t. Let’s just get started.”
“You hear that?”
“We all hear that. How could we not hear that?”
“We should head home.”
“What, are you scared?”
“You know what that sound means, we should go.”
“It’s just a stupid legend.”
“Or maybe you’re just stupid. Let’s go.”
“Hang on… There. We can find the arrow tomorrow and see just how much of a legend it is.”
He could see her eyes flash momentarily, and the warmth fade in favor of cold logic. Her decision required logic without feeling, she finally realized, and he knew the logical outcome meant nothing good for himself. It was perhaps a selfish thought, and he considered it for only a full minute, but he allowed himself the vain hope that those emotions were still there, speaking in the guise of logic.
The sharp nails scratched the back of his hand as they shook on their deal. He shivered, giving away the subconscious fear of his partner, and the other hand tightened around his own. “Not to worry, you couldn’t have made a better deal.”
He slammed the paper down on the table, scratched his chin, and consider for a minute. A door closed downstairs. He struck a match and watched with sad eyes as the letter rolled and charred and disappeared into ash in front of him.
“Why are they all here?”
“Why shouldn’t they be?”
“But why not in the garden?”
“Perhaps they found a sweeter nectar on the walls.”
She slid into the statue’s arms as a joke, pretending to play the aged silent flute. It was a joke. She didn’t set out to cause any real damage or offense; and she certainly didn’t expect the flute-player himself to be offended.
“There’s something so dramatic about yellow roses.” He squatted beside the flower and took a quick picture. “A survivor, despite everything man might build on its ground.”
The back of the bottle had a small label with a nearly illegible scribbled date. “It’s just some white stuff.” She angled the bottle, up in front of the light, and, with a loud gasp, she nearly dropped it. “There’s… There’s something inside!”
Shallow breaths echoed in the silence; he wasn’t gasping anymore, or even struggling. Reality felt limp and unfocused, and he hardly registered the sound of footsteps before he was turned over, a blurry dark mass standing over him.
“We’re the ones staring at the ceiling, at the walls, out the windows, at anything that isn’t reminding us how crappy life can be, at anything that lets us freely think.”
“You’re kind of dark, aren’t you?”
“So, you don’t sleep?”
“I do. Sometimes. Eventually.”
“I’m glad we’re sharing a room.”
“I like the way your mind works.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
“Let’s be dreamers for a little longer.”
She shuffled deeper into the shadows, her bright blue eyes bouncing around, watching carefully for any movement. A nearby box fell with a thud. Her breath caught, her eyes flashed, and she shivered a little. A cat appeared around the side of the box and, with another flash, was reduced to a scorch mark on the tile floor.
It wasn’t just a flash of lightning, but something sustained. She pushed through a couple more bushes above the dunes, watching the light flicker over the water – and into a small boat. She laughed a loud “ha!” and hurried to turn on her camera before the light disappeared.
Stay tuned for more updates regularly!
NEW updated prompts this week! New bits for each bauble means new word prompts! Check the new ideas out below:
“You think you should be heading this mission?”
“Goddamn right I do. Do you have any idea…”
“I do, actually. Just in case you’re having a senior moment, I’ll remind you of some of your record’s highlights: misfired bomb in a civilian city, entire squadron still MIA five years later, and two diplomats killed under your watch.”
His face squished up, turning red slightly as he ground his teeth.
“Now, how about we get through this mission alive? And, then, you can complain about my age.”
She unnerved him; he could feel her eyes boring into his soul, examining him, judging him, even if her expression softened. He watched her relax, a small smile dancing on her lips. To her, he was beautiful, his soul alight with a unique fire.
“You done messed up.”
“Like real messed up. Like grounded until you’re forty.”
He laughed as the picture snapped, and Sean couldn’t help smiling with him. “Dude, I never felt so pretty. Imma wear flowers everyday now.”
“How do we know this is the right house?”
“I saw them go in.”
“I don’t know, looks too nice.”
“Too nice for what?”
“Their ugly faces.”
“You’re not a princess, you’re a bitch, and there’s a major difference.”
Sofia looked up from her mirror, with a soft condescending smile: “No one ever said a princess couldn’t be a bitch, honey.”
“Why do you wear a mask? It scares people.”
“They deserve to be scared.”
Sweet nothings in her ear and the smell of coffee as he kissed her cheek. He was warmth and she wanted to bask in his light forever.
Stay tuned for more!
An excerpt from the full review:
Older women are a rare protagonist, and not just in animation; strong and capable grandmothers even more so. But Triplets of Belleville is its own kind of rare film. Following Madame Souza’s quest to find her grandson Champion, a bicyclist kidnapped by the French Mafia, Sylvain Chomet’s debut feature film has quiet simplicity that may seem unusual to most American audiences.
Beginning with a black-and-white television program featuring the Triplets of Belleville and several caricatured but real-life stars of the time, we meet Madame Souza and her young grandson Champion. After the unspecified death of his parents, young Champion lives with Madame Souza, who tries to find the quiet young boy’s interests, eventually even getting him a dog, Bruno, but to no avail. That is, until she finds a scrapbook all about bicycling; the young boy gets a tricycle and the grown man has a bicycling regime leading him to the Tour du France. Oui oui! But the French Mafia lie in wait. Sacre bleu! Champion and two other cyclists are kidnapped from the race, and Madame Souza does her best to follow their trail – to the bustling metropolis of Belleville…
Read more on Rotoscopers.com!
A blurb about the new series I’m directing for Rotoscopers.com:
Studios like Disney and DreamWorks get a lot of attention (and deservedly so, for the most part), but there is a whole world of animation outside of the main American studio system. With this series, we aim to introduce dozens of wonderful films that easily deserve a place next to classics like The Lion King or Toy Story.
Starting this Friday, we’ll be featuring a different independent animated film every weekend. Tune in and watch with us as we review and discuss independent animation, from Akira to Balto to 9 and even to the Barbie movies…
Read more on Rotoscopers.com!
Longtime MSM Pinterest followers will know that not all the prompts on Bits & Baubles or Bits and Baubles, Part 2, have a written blurb with them – not yet, anyway. I’m working through every one of the over 800 blurbs and regularly updating some with their own written blurbs.
Here are the most recent updates:
She stepped past the curtains, leaving her purse and coat backstage, and discovering an ingrained world on the old stage. When she looked back, there was nothing, nothing but more of the world she stepped into.
He contorted any and each way he could, the rock face scraping unforgivingly against his back and chest. He was cold, he was hungry, but he was determined not to get stuck.
“Maybe it’s because I’m so sweet.” Their soft wings fluttered over her face and gentle hand.
“Do lots of people say you’re sweet?”
She shook her head: “I just know I am.”
He didn’t trust the words. Too many people repeated them and believed them; his gut told him something was wrong. He would repeat them, but only while he tried to find out what they really meant.
She leaned out the door, checking that the coast was clear before stepping out at all. It was a risk, she knew, but she couldn’t go through with what her advisors wanted until she’d spoken to… The leaves crunches under her feet, her ears hypersensitive to the noise, and her heart pounding out of her chest as she hurried further away.
I wanted to scream and throw things and run out of the room. But I laughed instead. I couldn’t help it. Suddenly I could breathe enough to laugh, even though I was shaking, shaking with fear that it wasn’t true. He was dead. I was free. Could it really be?
“We know our fight.”
“All you’ve done is go out and kill people; that’s not our fight, that’s murder.”
She stepped tentatively into the water, its deep blue rippling around her ankles. Her skin shimmered as the water settled again. She thought to swim, but at that moment she dared not shatter the peace.
“I think you’re an ass.”
“Never mind, he’s fine.”
“Wow. So mature. And here I am trying to help you.”
“Yeah? Well, you can shove your help right up your…”
“Alright, alright, I’m going.”
Stay tuned for more at the My Storytelling Mind Pinterest!
“Through my kaleidoscope I can see next-door neighbors in next-door worlds and pretend they can see me, too. The next-door neighbors live like us and talk like us and feel like us, but they don’t act like us or look like us or think like us. If a grown-up saw my next-door neighbors in their next-door world, instead of a handshake held out, there’d be a nickname called out.”
“You can’t fan the heat of problems; they boil and bubble and burn. The only way to stop the pot from boiling over is to take away the fire.”
“When the stars have sparkled their last and the dance has come to its final note, will you love me enough to remind me what I’ve lost?”
“The mermaids murmur, the fairies flutter, the trees tell the tale of the princess who rides the Sun-laid path. She takes her rest upon the river bank, with naiad maids, and takes the Sun’s embrace. For when the Sun reminds you of dandelions and the rays leave stars in your eyes, is it not better to swim and be enveloped in the warmth than to walk upon it and forget the feeling beneath your toes?”
When the fog rolls in across the bay, and you can hardly see your hand in front of your face, the saddened and desperate multiply in the darkness. The bridge, scarlet arches of golden opportunity, is there to welcome those who have shut the doors to any other option. Once there, the air is suffocatingly fresh and the only reminder of the ocean below is the crashing of the waves. You can stand there all night, surrounded by fog and dark thoughts, as I once did, and you can even gaze around in the faint hope that someone will see you, ask you what you’re doing, try to stop you. But, rather than spotting a guardian angel, I saw only another man, a man whose face resembled my own in its desperation and hopelessness. Perhaps that is why I hesitated my own destruction; his somehow seemed so much more urgent to stop.
I was running before I knew that I had moved, and shouting before I wanted my mouth to open. He jumped with more conviction than I ever could have felt, staring into a whirling abyss below. The tail of his coat and the hat from his head were the last of him swallowed by the great cloud of white fog. In all probability, I was the only one who saw him that night, the only one who would know about the missing man that would be advertised for in the papers in the following week, and the only one who would know exactly why. I didn’t know the man. I had no idea who he was, and I hadn’t seen his face properly either. What I had seen of him would burn in my brain for the rest of my life, as it burned against the back of my eyelids then, a repeating scene.
I stood there for maybe another hour, glancing every few minutes at headlights speeding by, foolishly considering forcing one to stop. That wouldn’t do. Instead, I paced, hands in pockets, taking only a few steps before kicking something solid. It wasn’t part of the bridge – my foot would have known immediately. No, this was something smaller, sized conveniently for a gentleman’s coat pocket. A small notebook it was and it teetered dangerously at the edge of a similar doom to its presumed original owner. Taking a step back, I knelt down, picked it up, and turned it once over in my hand. Another glance into the white, billowing ravine below told me it was time to go home, no matter how much my curiosity bribed me to sit down then and there, and read a dead man’s notebook.