July 23, 2013

A Whirlwind of Description

So, as you know if you've kept up with my daily posts, yesterday I recommended that you check out this website. I've been reading that blog's stuff for the past day and have come to realize that some of my writing has within it some of the "Don't's" of this blog. For example, in the short Transformers fanfic I'm writing, I have a good three paragraphs describing Optimus Prime's physical features. Now, I had a hell'a fun writing this: I got to literally expand my color palette and just run wild with seeing how much detail I could cram into this nugget of a description of a person. But as so often is demonstrated, more is not always better. As Writability says: my character "was drowning in so much description that nothing could stand out and leave an impression." If you will be so kind and indulge me- I have here the three paragraphs of description that I dedicated to describing Optimus Prime:

"Optimus’ build was tall broad of shoulder yet limber, as an athlete might have been in the days of Old Cybertron. His armor was masked in red, streams of the color covering the majority of his arms, with each shoulder plate embroidered with the sigil of his Autobot cause. A noble symbol, the sigil was emblazoned cardinal red, the majestic face flanked by a set of three-pronged wings, their borders rimmed in chromed silver. The gorget he wore was vermillion red, simple in design and light. His breastplate was red too, ornamented with muted silver and palatinate blue accents. Two resilient panes of transparent armor lay overtop his breastplate proper, while his abdominal armature consisted of a cascade of silver plate overlaying mail and under-armor. The blue armor in Optimus’ legs was splinted over silver, weaving around his thighs. His lower legs were covered in the zaffre color completely, punctured only by silver vented shin guards and black-as-coal kneepads.

"His head lifted, his great kabuto helmet glistening deep electric cobalt in the newly risen sun. The royal assembly was a heavy thing, fitting of form to Optimus’ defined features, yet to wear it was to wear and represent the not-all-too-proud Prime lineage of which Optimus was the latest. The unique headgear was ornamented with flecks of jonquil and battleship silver, vented guards accompanying the cheekplates. His great forehead crest was tall, rimmed in sapphire, it’s vents of contrasting silver retreating into blackness. The temples of the helmet featured translucent domes overtop silver disks, each embroidered with the sigils of the Thirteen original Primes, made out in Old Cybertronian script. Attached to the domes were multiple antennae, the most prominent of which were long spires of razor-sharp silver encrusted with blue gemstone and gold crevasses. The back of the helmet sloped down, with ornamented rivets of Mikado yellow cascading down the blue, vented protrusions flowing with the design. Ringlets of silver fastened themselves to the base of the back helm, onto which hung further neck protection of black leather, which seated itself snugly behind Optimus’ protruding red shoulder blade armor and gorget.

"The leather was old and musty, stained with the oils of Cybertronian blood that ran through and fueled the biotech of the wearer. The leather had once been stamped with the phrase “’Till All Are One” written in Maximalius Cybertronian, but due to Optimus’ prolonged use of the leather and ferocity in battle, few characters remained of the original mantra. Still, all who looked upon Optimus knew what he represented, or at least, kidded themselves into thinking that they knew the whole truth of it. Optimus did not like being looked at or idolized, and he liked that the source of that admiration came from a half-truth even less."

Now, that's a lot of text and a lot of wordiness, and it's almost all filler. Look at what I've done here: I spend a paragraph describing his body, a second paragraph describing the damn HELMET, and a third talking about leather! LEATHER?! Really? At the very end, we get a tiny little bit of character introspection. That's it. What's more, none of this ever comes back into the story. No one looks at Optimus and admires his shiny helmet or manly abs or any of that. The rest of the story focuses on him fighting a losing battle and facing inner demons. The point is, most of this needs to go, and his description needs to be trimmed down into a nice paragraph. Perhaps an experiment could be conducted right here:

What I would first need to do is tighten up what he looks like. I have all this detail running around, but none of it culminates; it's all just there on the page. Optimus should be a tall, lanky yet powerful commanding figure. That's a description in one sentence!

"Optimus’ build was tall broad of shoulder yet limber, as an athlete might have been in the days of Old Cybertron. His armor was masked in red, streams of the color covering the majority of his upper body, with silver popping up amidst the blue of his legs."

I like the first description here: "broad of shoulder yet limber" is exactly how I picture Optimus, especially from the Prime universe, which this one is somewhat based on. This also lets the reader fill in some details about what his armor looks like: to some, it may be pointed and angular, to others it could be a nice taught tapestry of color, but that's all up to the reader. This trimmed down sentance doesn't force-feed anyone a rundown of where every color is. This takes away all the flourish and polish and strip the description of his armor down to a sentence. It may lack bravado, but it gets the job done far more quickly and effectively than going on and on about red and blue and silver covering a figure.

Next, we need to condense the description of the helmet. Admittedly, this section was just me experimenting with color and seeing if I could convey what the shape of the helmet looked like. However, the same rules should apply.

"His head lifted, his great kabuto helmet glistening in the sun. The royal assembly was a heavy thing, fitting of form to Optimus’ defined features, yet to wear it was to wear and represent the not-all-too-proud Prime lineage of which Optimus was the latest. The unique headgear was ornamented with flecks of jonquil and battleship silver, embroidered with the sigils of the Thirteen original Primes, made out in crude Old Cybertronian script, as if to judge their helmet's wearer."

Perfect? Certainly not, but this trimmed-down version of the second paragraph seeks to eschew flare and give more insight into Optimus' character, even if its only a little bit. I kept the second sentence ("The royal assembly was a heavy thing...") because I liked how it conveyed a burden that Optimus had to carry with him, quite literally in the form of his heavy helmet. The sentence continues to give us slightly more background information with "... the not-all-too-proud Prime lineage of which Optimus was the last." Great! That gets the reader interested: why is Optimus not proud of his mantle? did something happen to make Optimus ashamed of his position? what's the secret here? These questions are nestled nicely in the back of the reader's mind, and with the revisions that I made, the questions aren't immediately swept away with more description. The last half of the final sentence seeks to try to tie back to the second, with "made out in crude Cybertronian script, as if to judge their helmet's wearer." It gets across that Optimus feels like he's being judged, and that the Original Thirteen, whoever they are, were cruel, or at least simple, people with "crude script" being the key descriptive here.

Finally, the last paragraph deals with arbitrary detail, and honestly most of it can go. In fact, the only part of it that I would save is the last half.

"All who looked upon Optimus knew what he represented, or at least, kidded themselves into thinking that they knew the whole truth of it. Optimus did not like being looked at or idolized, and he liked that the source of that admiration came from a half-truth even less."

Once again, this chunk of text seeks to build character rather than develop needless descriptions about leather (we have porn fanfic for that). This section is unchanged, except for starting the first sentence later than the original did. I like the second sentence here as well, as it tells us about Optimus' moral standards: he doesn't like lying, he perhaps is ashamed of his heritage, or that his command and admiration is based around a "half-truth". What is this "half-truth"? why is Optimus ashamed? These questions, raised in the second paragraph, are tied back with this. My final edits of this section resulted in this:

Optimus’ build was tall broad of shoulder yet limber, as an athlete might have been in the days of Old Cybertron. His armor was masked in red, streams of the color covering the majority of his upper body, with silver popping up amidst the blue of his legs. His head lifted, his great kabuto helmet glistening in the sun. The royal assembly was a heavy thing, fitting of form to Optimus’ defined features, yet to wear it was to wear and represent the not-all-too-proud Prime lineage of which Optimus was the latest. The unique headgear was ornamented with flecks of jonquil and battleship silver, embroidered with the sigils of the Thirteen original Primes, made out in crude Old Cybertronian script, as if to judge their helmet's wearer. All who looked upon Optimus knew what he represented, or at least, kidded themselves into thinking that they knew the whole truth of it. Optimus did not like being looked at or idolized, and he liked that the source of that admiration came from a half-truth even less.

A bit long for a single paragraph, but this is a much better summation of both Optimus' physical features as well as his mind than the three paragraphs of ornament and flourish from before. I hope that this illustrates that a) the Writability blog site is a wonderful tool, and b) with just a few changes, you too can eliminate needless pontification, and instead focus on character, with perhaps a sprinkle of physical description.

Thank you to Writability for helping me in my quest to become a better writer, and I hope that this post was helpful to at least one person out there!

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