Thread: Evoking visions with very few words - posted by Eryan
You have wonderful insight! Tolkien was an artist and illustrator, as well as, a remarkable writer. I believe having both these gifts enabled him to paint such splendid pictures with words.
I also believe this is one of the reasons when we see paintings by Tolkien artists they often look just as you pictured it in your mind. He gives them every detail right down to the light and shadows.
Thank-you for sharing this marvelous reflection on Tolkien's writings.
(Sorry, I accidently deleted this post. fortunately I was able to retrieve it. - Rednell)
You have a wonderful knack of extracting the best paragraphs, Eryan. Taken together, these make a really nice post. Once I've finished reading the Silmarillion, I think I shall go back and re-read LotR.
Many writers start out by putting in too much detail in their writing, becase they have not yet developed confidence in their own expression.
"John banged his forhead against the steering wheel in frustration."
Do we really need the last two words? Why do people usually deliberately head but their steering wheel? All we really need is:
"John banged his head against the steering wheel."
The reader is able to gather that John is frustrated, without being told by the narrator.
This kind of revising is what leads to tight, concise but clear prose. Tolkien was an expert writer, and his writing shows that he knew just how much detail to include so that the reader got a clear image, without overburdening them with explaining the obvious. As readers, we enjoy being able to "work out what is happening" on our own a little bit.
An example that I like:
"Now the little plane drops and the fat woman sitting next to him yelps and spills her coffee; his tray of food goes flying. With eyes closed he begins to count, one...and two...and three: a religious man, he thinks, might now decide to pray. Then it is over, they survive, and as the eighteen-seater settles high above the rift of blue which separates the island from the mainland, the pilot quickly and calmly sends his apologies." - Julia Leigh, The Hunter
In less than a paragraph, we get a clear image that the airline flight is experiencing turbulence (yet the word 'turbulence' is never used), the type of man the protagonist is (intelligent but unkind) and even a hint about the destination (small aircraft, few passangers - somwhere remote?).
I will try to bring in another (better) quote tomorrow.
What you wrote about too many unnecessary details as a symptom of immaturity of the writer is very true! Look at that fragment of the "LAy of Leithian" describing Beren's coming to Doriath. Just four lines, and we know that he is alone and sorrowing, that he just had some hard time (came form the mountains cold), but that now he is in an enchanted land (suggested just by the two wodrs, Elven-river). We feel sympathy and compassion for him and we assume that he is a hero and not a villain, although this is not explicitly stated! We do not know anything more, but we assume that he is a nice man (and he might have been an evil, ugly bad-smelling Orc - they also can be alone and sorrowing I suppose!)
Returning to the question of too many words/details, I am more and more worried about it in my own writing. I showed fragments of my texts to several persons (including my mother) and only one of them told me that she liked my manner of writing - but even that person warned me that I am "painting with words using too much paint"! All others told me that my texts ares far too wordy. My cardinal sin is that I often cannot choose a single adjectif and I am putting more of them in a string which makes the text very heavy. And, most annoying of all, when I return to some fragments of my text after a longer while, I see that although I put too much unnecessary details, many necessary details are still missing!!!!
I know that over description has been a problem for me at times too. I also am trying to learn to "show" the reader, not "tell" the reader.
"Elrond was seasick"
is pretty boring to read
"Elrond leaned over the railing of the rocking ship. His face was tinged green and his stomach heaved in time with the surf."
Is more interesting because the reader gets to 'guess' what is happening. It also gives 'picture' of the action.
As for showing and not telling, I am doing this all the time and I was proud of it... and then my readers complained that Ii'm "bombing" them with vivid, suggestive images which haunt them afterwards and leave no place for imagination... and that this manner of writing is tiring... I was much surprised but almost all of them told me so, except one person who told me that she liked that! And you know what? This only person is very fond of fantasy as a genre, and all others do not like fantasy so much! I wonder whether this is a simple coincidence, perhaps not? Perhaps I should seek only the opinion of people who actually do like fantasy?
[Edited on 2/12/2002 by Eryan]
Perhaps I should seek only the opinion of people who actually do like fantasy?
Returning to the question of painting with few words, there is a remarkable quote from the Russian writer Czekhov, quoted by a Polish writer Stanislaw Mackiewicz as a perfect example of that skill (attention, I am giving here this quote in my own clumsy translation):
Rays of moon were reflected from an empty sardine tin thrown into the corner of a ferry
But, to tell the truth, I think that for a writer it is best to follow his/her own taste and to hope that he/she will find at least some readers with a similar taste and mentality, than to try to please everybody... So I decided that I will try to write texts which I myself would like to read... and if they will remain unpublished, let it be!
When I was at school and forced to write about subjects that held no interest for me I found it such a chore. If at that time someone had told me that twenty-five years later one of my hobbies would include writing, I would not have believed them. I cannot write about things I do not have an interest in.
I only regret I am not writing in English, because I won't be able to share them with my foreign friends... but my Polish vocabulary is so much richer!
I glad that you liked my Faramir song, I wrote it very quckly, almost without corrections and I was absolutely uncertain what it is worth.
I am very fond of your writing, especially of the story of the "Rangers of the North". You were able to invoke in my brain very vivid imaginations, soem of them are as vivid as real memories... and that is "Enchantment", a preferred Elven art according to Tolkien!
Even if we write for our own enjoyment, it is always a termendous pleasure (at least for me!0 when our readers tell us "I saw that!". One of my friends which read bits of my fantasy saga still keeps telling me " I have seen your golden wood". Well, just to make things clear, MY golden wood was not Lothlorien-based, it was actually based on my real memories of hornbeam woods close to my country place. In the autumn hornbeam leaves turn lemon yellow, and there is a lot of light, and the floor of the forest is strewn with yellow leaves and full of pale dry bracken... And it's warm, much warmer than in crystal-fresh winter Lothlorien!
Ross, I am terribly flattered and glad that this topic is interesting for you!
The village was deserted. I could not imagine where everyone had gone. I told myself thay had run away: my mother had taken my sisters to the safety of the forest. I would go and find them just as soon as I had found out who was screaming. But as I stepped out of the alley into the main street I saw two men lying on the ground. A soft evening rain was beginning to fall and they looked suprised, as thought they had no idea why they were lying there in the rain. They would never get up again, and it did not matter that their clothes were getting wet. - Lian Hearn, Across the Nightingale Floor
Tension is built with the first two sentances, as well as illustrating the protagonist's innocence. Somehow, the reader is able to guess that his mother and sisters are not hiding, but have been killed. The rain lends a metephor for tears and grief, and though the protagonist does not cry, we sense that he will later. The image of the dead men in the alley is very strong, yet it only takes two sentances, and nowhere does Hearn use the word 'dead'. I like this kind of writing very much.
One of the best vision-evoking quotes I have ever read comes... from your own post in the thread on Luthien Tinuviel in "Characters":
Aussie Elves? I like it!!
I can just imagine them stepping lightly over the sand in their bejeweled thongs (simple footwear) and playing beach cricket with a delicately carved and decorated bat and a magically enhanced ball.. Later they would consume copious amounts of elven wine and alcoholic murivor and sing loudly around a fire until they fell into deep contemplation
I really SAW them Allyssa and ever since I desired to see them again!
I think that you have a great future as a writer!