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Fairfield, Queensland, Australia
Fairfield Writers Group is a mix of beginner and experienced writers who meet the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at the Brisbane City Council Library in Fairfield Gardens Shopping Centre, Fairfield road, Fairfield, Queensland. Our passion is writing and we work hard at our craft. Our aim is to encourage, support and help each other to reach new heights in our writing. New members are always made welcome and usually whisked off to the local coffee shop at the end of meetings for sustenance and socialisation with the rest of the crew.

Welcome to Fairfield Writers Group

We hope you will stop for a while and browse our site and if you like what you see, please visit us again soon.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life

The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life

by Anne Marble

Description is something that gets in the way of many authors. Why? Well, because it's so darn hard to write. And no wonder. If you're not careful, descriptive sequences can become static, even dull. Writing action and dialogue is so much more fun. On top of that, description incorporates so many elements. It doesn't just cover describing the setting -- it also involves descriptions of the characters' clothes and appearance, the "props" your characters use, the weather, and so forth.

If you're not very accomplished at writing description, then sometimes you might want to avoid writing it. But then, you can wind up with stories where people wander vague hallways or buildings, and readers don't get a sense of time or place from your story. A story without enough description is missing something. People who read a story that's lacking in description might ask "Where does this take place? Are there buildings around them?" I must admit that often happens when people look at my early drafts.

At the same time, some writers err in the other direction, including too much description. They fall in love with their setting and can't help tell the readers about it. And tell and tell. This can impede the flow of the narrative. Imagine readers skimming your book in the store. If they see pages and pages describing the castle grounds, or the chic hotel, they will probably put it down and pick up someone else's book instead.

How bad is bad description? Think of bad description as being like that teacher who droned on and on and put the class to sleep. Good description is more like the teacher who got students involved by using anecdotes and making the class interactive. You don't want the descriptive passages in your story to put your readers to sleep, do you?

Avoid Huge Lumps of Description

In the past, authors could get away with including long, detailed descriptions in their stories. There's an infamous anecdote about a penny dreadful called Varney the Vampire. The author couldn't decide what happened in the next installment, so he interrupted the story to send all his characters off to the park or the zoo. The story picked up again in the next installment. This problem wasn't limited to the penny dreadfuls. Many famous novels of this period came to a complete stop while the author described something (such as a cityscape, a history, or even an entire profession) for a chapter or two.

Unless they're seeking out writers known for lyrical descriptive passages, today's readers wouldn't put up with that sort of thing. They don't want to sit and read several pages about a park outing that had nothing to do with the story, or about the workings of the fireplace in a Medieval castle. They have better things to do with their time -- and they want to read a story, not a travelogue.

Of course there are authors who, even in today's marketplace, can get away with pages and pages of description. Even genre writers. (John Crowley is a great example in the SF/fantasy field.) Those writers get away with it only because they're really really good. Either their writing is lyrical, or it's witty, or it's somehow so enthralling that people don't care that the book has ground to a halt. However, not all readers will put up with this, even if the writing is the terrific. Also, it's worth noting that there are many published writers who rhapsodize on everything from history to their characters' politics for long passages without being lyrical about it. In these case, the reality is that even the fans know to skim those passages.

Make Description an Active Part of the Story

To make your stories more interesting, you must find ways to blend the description into the story. Descriptions that just sit there are generally known as "narrative lumps." Like lumps on proverbial logs, they sit there and do little to your story. Send those lumps to the gym and make them work out. They can set the scene, move the plot, set the mood, foreshadow events, give us a sense of character, whatever they have to do to get the ball (or log) rolling.

The great thing about using descriptions in combination with action is that you can cut the description down into palatable pieces. In a fantasy short story, I once wrote the following sentence: "Zara grabbed her mug and gulped it down, shivering when a few drops the ale trickled under her leather top." I made my words work for me. I didn't have to say "The ale was cold. She wore a leather top." Instead, I used action to fit that description into the story in tiny bits.

How did I come up with that line? It came from imagining Zara and what she might experience when she drank that ale. Try it with your own stories. Try to think of your story as scenes unfolding in a movie or play. What do your characters interact with? Let's say you're writing a story set in a modern-day office building. Instead of stopping the story to describe the lush lobby with trees and waterfalls, come up with a reason for this description to be in the story. Yes, even "Because this office should have a fancy lobby" is a legitimate reason for the description to be in the story, as long as it doesn't drag the story to a stop. Now, come up with an excuse -- whoops, I mean a reason -- for the characters to be interacting with that setting. Are your hero and heroine walking through the lobby while having an argument? Or are they sitting at the fountain when they realize they may be in love? What they are doing will influence what they interact with, and how they filter those details.

Want to describe the heroine's living room or bedroom? Then describe it as a part of a scene full of tension, such as an argument, or during the love scene. Blend the description with action. The same goes for describing the characters. Something as simple as "He picked up the invitation with his slender fingers" is more exciting than "She noticed that he had slender fingers." zzz

Don't forget to trust in the intelligence of your audience. You don't have to spell everything out for them. You can make them figure out what something, or someone, looks like by dropping hints. Early in Walter Miller, Jr.'s classic post-apocalpytic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, a monk realizes for the first time that the pope's cassock is getting threadbare, and that the carpet in the pope's audience room is worn. Miller uses description to clue the reader in on this world and to mark changes in the way the character is viewing the world around him.

Describe What Your Characters Would Notice

Unless you're writing in omniscient viewpoint, chances are that you are filtering the setting (and background) through the eyes of your characters. This will be the case whether you are writing first person or third person limited stories. In the Miller example above, the monk noticed that the pope's cassock was worn because it was something out of place.

Let's go back to the office building with the fancy lobby. If your heroine has been in that office building dozens of times, she will only give it a passing glance. Unless something has changed or something usual is going on. Then she will notice it. For example, she might not take much notice of the lovely fountain in the center of the lobby, but she would notice if the fountain wasn't working or if the building manager had changed the color of the water because of a holiday, or if the hero was standing in the fountain and fishing for quarters.

Characters in a Medieval setting won't think it's odd that there are tapestries on the walls or rushes on the floor. They will notice the unusual -- rushes that haven't been changed for a while, or for that matter, rushes that have been changed often and smell sweet. Similarly, characters in fantasy and futuristic stories won't look at the setting in the same way we would. A star pilot is unlikely to walk into a starport and think of its history, notice the number of starships, etc., unless there is a good reason. A fantasy warrior isn't going to look at a group of wizards and remember the history of magic. Instead, he would look at them and try to size up their strengths as potential enemies or allies.

You should probably avoid stopping the flow of your story to tell your readers all about how nice the hero's castle is or how important the rain forest is. I've seen stories that do so, and even if the setting is pretty, the result to the story isn't pretty. Some authors can get away with this. If you're one of them, then go for it, but at the same time, always keep your readers in mind. Do they want to read a ramble about the rain forest? Or do they want to know what happens next?

Words, Words, Words

Use strong, active, concrete writing words when writing description. The stronger the writing, the better the description. Use concrete details -- such as the detail about the cold ale trickling down Zara's chest. Nouns and verbs are your friends. Adjectives and adverbs can be your friends, or your enemies, depending on how you use them.

What should you avoid? One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you should avoid adjectivitis and similar "writing sins." Yes, I know "adjectivitis" isn't a real word -- but it should be in the dictionary, because so many writers suffer from it. Adjectivitis refers to using too many adjectives. Some writers are notorious for piling on adjectives. Not to mention adverbs, weak qualifiers such as "somewhat," and so forth. Using them in any part of the story weakens your writing. Using them in your descriptions risks putting the readers to sleep.

I won't do like some other writing guidelines say and tell you "Never use adverbs." Sometimes you will need adverbs. Sometimes people speak softly or walk slowly, or quickly. Sometimes saying "He walked slowly down the hall..." is right for the story and saying "He plodded down the hall..." is dead wrong.

Oh, and don't go to the thesaurus too often. Yes, I know, sometimes you need another word for "walked." Still, just because it's in the thesaurus under the entry for "walked," that doesn't mean it's the right word for your story. Besides, sometimes it becomes obvious that certain writers are too in love with their thesauruses. Their characters don't just shout -- they exclaim and yell and caterwaul. Enough already!

Use All the Senses

Most writers tend to concentrate on sight and sound. This is natural as those are the main ways in which we observe the world. However, you can really bring a scene to life by including the other senses. The sense of smell is an important one. What's a Western romance without the smell of leather? Of course, don't forget the sense of touch -- very important in a romance, even when you aren't writing a love scene. Taste is harder to include as humans don't tend to go around tasting things unless they're eating, but be sure to include it during love scenes.

Just because sight and sound are the most commonly used senses, that doesn't mean you have to make them, well, common. Find some new way to describe the things your characters see and hear. For example, don't fall back on the old cliches about the color of your characters' eyes -- invent new phrases that are so powerful they become cliches in the future! Also, don't forget to describe their voices or the other sounds they hear. Try listening to people talking on the radio or listening to people on TV without looking at the picture, just to get an idea of the nuances of voice.

Fit the Description to the Type of Story

If you're writing an action-oriented romance, too much description will get in the way of the pace. James Bond isn't going to stop in the middle of skiing away from gun-toting spies to ponder the beauty of the Alps. He's going to get away from them.

On the other hand, description will be a more important part of many slower-paced stories. If the book is about a hero coming to his hometown to lick his wounds after a divorce, we want to know what the area looks like and why it's so important to him. Also, a spooky paranormal tale might use description to build up the sense of unease -- for example, you might linger on descriptions of dark hallways in the old mansion and hint that there are ghosts there.

Avoid Excessive Name-dropping

First, you should know that it's all right to use brand names in stories. There are a few basic rules: 1) get the trademark correct; 2) don't use the trademark in a generic or incorrect sense; and 3) Don't portray the product in disparaging light. (In other words, don't have your characters getting food poisoning at the KFC.) You can learn more about the use of trademarks at an article on The Publishing Law Center web site http://www.publaw.com/fairusetrade.html.

However, while using trademarks is all right, using too many brand names is over-the-top and annoying. Unless you're writing chick lit about a brand-obsessed heroine, then don't waste valuable narrative telling the reader about your heroine's designer clothing, designer perfumes, expensive car, and designer pets. Some books include so many brand names that readers begin to wonder if the writer is getting kickbacks for product placement.

Don't avoid brand names altogether, however. Using brand names can be a good way to provide the reader with a quick concrete description. Does your hero drive a Jaguar? Or does he drive a VW bus? Right away, those are two very different heroes. (Even more different is the hero who owns both a shiny Jag and an old VW bus.)

Don't Let Description Hang You Up during a First Draft

If you're not comfortable with writing description, don't let it get in your way when you're writing the first draft. Remember, you can always go back and add it later. If you have any critique partners, however, you might want to warn them that your early drafts won't have all of the details built in.

This is the way I work. For example, when I was writing the first draft of my fantasy novel set in a prison of mages, I had a clear idea of the characters and plot, and I certainly knew what my characters looked like. (They were yummy!) But I wasn't set on the description of the setting yet. So instead of stopping, I wrote. I worked out the plot. Then, whenever I went back and edited the novel, I added more description where needed.

This technique doesn't work for all writers. Some writers must have the description down-pat, or they won't be able to continue. However, if you think it might work for you, try it out. This technique has an added advantage -- if you change any aspects of your setting in midstream, you won't have as much rewriting to do.

Copyright © 2004 Anne Marble


Anne M. Marble (amarble "at" sff.net) has published articles in Gothic Journal and Writer's Digest and is a columnist for the At the Back Fence column at All About Romance (AAR). In her "spare time," she moderates AARlist, a busy list of romance readers sponsored by AAR. Just about everything she writes includes a romance element, even if it's a fantasy novel about a lord and a countertenor. Her day job involves editing articles for the Journal of Biological Chemistry.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Exercise for the 12th of March 2011


Choose a setting from examples 1 – 4 shown below and compose a piece of writing 500-1000 words.

Four Ways to Bring Settings to Life
by Moira Allen

The devil, it's said, is in the details. So, too, is much of the work of a writer. Too little detail leaves your characters wandering through the narrative equivalent of an empty stage. Too much, and you end up with great blocks of description that tempt the reader to skip and skim, looking for the action.

To set your stage, it's important to choose the most appropriate, vivid details possible. It's equally important to present those details in a way that will engage the reader. The following four techniques can help.

1) Reveal setting through motion.
Let your description unfold as a character moves through the scene. Consider which details your character would notice immediately, and which might register more slowly. Let your character encounter those details interactively.

Suppose, for example, that your heroine, an "Orphan Annie" of humble origins, has entered a millionaire's mansion. What would she notice first? How would she react to her surroundings?

Let her observe how soft the rich Persian carpet feels underfoot, how it muffles her footfalls, how she's tempted to remove her shoes. Don't tell us the sofa is soft until she actually sinks into it. Let her smell the fragrance of hothouse flowers filling a cut-crystal vase.

Use active verbs to set the scene. Instead of saying "a heavy marble table

dominated the room," force your character to detour around it. Instead of explaining that "light glittered and danced from the crystal chandelier," let your character blink at the prismatic display.

"Walking through" a description breaks the details into bite-sized nuggets, and scatters those nuggets throughout the scene so that the reader never feels overwhelmed or bored.

2) Reveal setting through a character's level of experience.
What your character knows will directly influence what she sees. Your orphan may not know whether the carpet is Persian or Moroccan, or even whether it's wool or polyester. If these details are important, how can you convey them?

You could, of course, let the haughty owner of the mansion point out your heroine's ignorance. Or, you could write the scene from the owner's perspective. Keep in mind, however, that different characters will perceive the same surroundings in very different ways, based on their familiarity (or lack thereof) with the setting.

Imagine, for example, that you're describing a stretch of windswept coastline from the perspective of a local fisherman's son. What would he notice? From the color of the sky or changes in the wind, he might make deductions about tomorrow's weather and sailing conditions. When he notices seabirds wheeling against the clouds, he doesn't just see "gulls," but terns and gannets and petrels -- easily identified by the shape of their wings or patterns of their flight.

Equally important are the things he might not notice. Being so familiar with the area, he might pay little attention to the fantastic shapes of the rocks, or the gnarled driftwood littering the sand. He hardly notices the bite of the wind through his cable-knit sweater, and he's oblivious to the stink of rotting kelp-mats that have washed ashore.

Now suppose a rich kid from the big city is trudging along that same beach. Bundled to the teeth in the latest Northwest Outfitters jacket, he's still shivering -- and can't imagine why the lad beside him isn't freezing to death. He keeps stumbling over half- buried pieces of driftwood, and fears that the sand is ruining his Doc Martens. From the way the waves pound against the beach, he thinks a major storm is brewing. The very thought of bad weather makes him nauseous, as does the stench of rotting seaweed (he doesn't think of it as "kelp") and dead fish.

Each of these characters' perceptions of the beach will be profoundly influenced by his experience. "Familiar," however, needn't imply a positive outlook, while "unfamiliar" needn't mean "negative." Your city kid might, in fact, regard the beach as an idyllic vacation spot -- rugged, romantic, isolated, just the place to make him feel he's really getting in touch with nature. The fisherman's son, on the other hand, may loathe the ocean, feeling trapped by the whims of wind and weather. Which brings us to the next point:

3) Reveal setting through the mood of your character.
What we see is profoundly influenced by what we feel. The same should be true for our characters. Filtering a scene through a character's feelings can profoundly influence what the reader "sees."

Suppose, for example, that your heroine -- a spunky young girl on holiday -- is strolling an archetypal stretch of British moorland. Across the blossoming gorse, she sees the ruins of some ancient watchtower, little more than a jumble of stones crowning the next hill (or "tor," as her guidebook puts it).

The temptation to explore is irresistible. Flicking dandelion heads with her walking stick, our heroine hikes up the slope, breathing the scents of grass and clover, admiring the lichen patterns on the granite boulders. At last, warmed by the sun and her exertions, she leans back against a stone and watches clouds drift overhead like fuzzy sheep herded by a gentle wind. A falcon shrills from a nearby hollow, its cry a pleasant reminder of how far she has come from the dirty high school she so despises.

A pleasant picture? By now, your reader might be considering travel arrangements to Dartmoor. But what if your heroine is in a different mood? What if she has become separated from her tour group and is lost? Perhaps she started across the moor because she thought she saw a dwelling -- but was dismayed to find that it was only a grey, creepy ruin. The tower's scattered stones, half-buried in weeds and tangled grasses, remind her of grave markers worn faceless with time. Its silent emptiness speaks of secrets, of a desolation that welcomes no trespassers. Though the sun is high, scudding clouds cast a pall over the landscape, and the eerie, lonesome cry of some unseen bird reminds her just how far she is from home.

When this traveler looks at the gorse, she sees thorns, not blossoms. When she looks at clouds, she sees no fanciful shapes, only the threat of rain. She wants out of this situation -- while your reader is on the edge of his seat, expecting something far worse than a ruin to appear on this character's horizon!

4) Reveal setting through the senses.
A character's perception of a setting will influence and be influenced by the senses. Our stranded hiker, for example, may not notice the fragrance of the grass, but she will be keenly aware of the cold wind. Our city kid notices odors the fisherman's son ignores, while the latter detects subtle variations in the color of the sky that are meaningless to the former.

Different sensory inputs evoke different reactions. For example, visual information tends to be processed primarily at the cognitive level: We make decisions and take action based on what we see. When we describe a scene in terms of visual inputs, we are appealing to the reader's intellect.

Emotions, however, are often affected by what we hear. Think of the effects of a favorite piece of music, the sound of a person's voice, the whistle of a train. In conversation, tone of voice is a more reliable indicator of mood and meaning than words alone. Sounds can make us shudder, shiver, jump -- or relax and smile. Scenes that include sounds -- fingers scraping a blackboard, the distant baying of a hound -- are more likely to evoke an emotional response.

Smell has the remarkable ability to evoke memories. While not everyone is taken straight to childhood by "the smell of bread baking," we all have olfactory memories that can trigger a scene, or a recollection of an event or person. Think of someone's perfume, the smell of new-car leather, the odor of wet dog. Then describe that smell effectively, and your reader is there.

Touch evokes a sensory response. Let your reader feel the silkiness of a cat's fur, the roughness of castle stones, the prickly warmth of Dad's flannel shirt. Let your heroine's feet ache, let the wind raise goosebumps on her flesh, let the gorse thorns draw blood.

Finally, there is taste, which is closely related to smell in its ability to evoke memories. Taste, however, is perhaps the most difficult to incorporate into a setting; often, it simply doesn't belong there. Your heroine isn't going to start licking the castle stones, and it isn't time for lunch. As in real life, "taste" images should be used sparingly and appropriately.

The goal of description is to create a well-designed set that provides the perfect background for your characters -- and that stays in the background, without overwhelming the scene or interrupting the story. In real life, we explore our surroundings through our actions, experience them through our senses, understand (or fail to understand) them through our knowledge and experience, and respond to them through our emotions. When your characters do the same, you'll keep your readers turning pages -- and not just because they're waiting for something interesting to happen!

Copyright © 1999 Moira Allen
This article originally appeared in The Writer.
Fairfield Writers Exercises - prepared by Martin Knox


00283804.gifWriters Festivals and Events 2011 - Australia

•4 to 7 March 2011 - Perth Writers' Festival - University of Western Australia

•16 to 18 March 2011 - Somerset Writers' Festival - Somerset College, Mudgeeraba, Queensland.

•31 March to 3 April 2011 - Oracles of the Bush - live performances of Australian Bush poetry, music and art. Tenterfield, New South Wales.

•2 & 3 April 2011 - The Norman Lindsay Festival of Children's Literature at the Norman Lindsay Gallery, 14 Norman Lindsay Crescent, Faulconbridge, Blue Mountains, New South Wales.

•6 to 8 April 2011 - Lit Fest - Young adult and children's literature festival hosted by the All Saints College, Bull Creek, Western Australia.

•21 to 25 April 2011 - Swancon - The annual West Australian Science Fiction Convention.

•29 April to 1 May 2011 - Williamstown Literary Festival - Williamstown, western Victoria.

•16 to 22 May 2011 - Sydney Writers Festival

•6 & 7 June 2011 - Voices on the Coast: A Youth Literature Festival - Sunshine Coast, Queensland.

•17 to 20 June 2011 - Watermark Literary Muster - Biennial festival bringing together national and international writers whose writing focuses on nature. Camden Haven, New South Wales.

•14 to 17 July 2011 - Mildura Writers Festival

Whitsunday Writers Festival 22-24 July 2011.

Anthology Newsletter 12th of Feb 2011


12th OF FEBRUARY 2011

Present: Lorraine, Helga, Jennifer, Findlay and Anna.

Chairing this meeting: Anna

The following key points were discussed in this meeting:

1. Submit first draft of story/stories in the formatted template.
All members have submitted their first draft.

2. Cover concept to be agreed.
Helga submitted 3 drawings for approval. Suggestions for cover were discussed and changes will be presented at next meeting.

3. Select a “buddy” to work with.
The top row mentors the middle row and the middle row mentors the bottom row.

Maarten                   Anna               Lou                Lorraine
Anna                       Helga             Jennifer        Maarten
Lou                          Findlay           Maarten         Anna

Helga                      Findlay            Anna
Findlay                   Lorraine          Lou
Lorraine                  Maarten           Jennifer

4. Discuss word count cost.
Lorraine obtained pricing for the book which was emailed to all members previously. It was decided that the story would be no more than 10,000 words in total.

This means that you can have either one story of up to 10,000 words or two stories combined to make up to 10,000 words.

Members decided that 200 hundred books were required. Lorraine will get a quote for 200 hundred books and advise us of the pricing at the next meeting.

5. Any other issues
Idea shared at meeting- a member(s) of the One Book Many Brisbanes project management team to endorse anthology.

Key points to be discussed or to be actioned in the next meeting:

• Submit 2nd draft All drafts must conform to the supplied style sheet and formatting rules.
• Discuss pricing based on 200 books.
• Draft cover designs to be reviewed and voted on.
• Discuss marketing strategy.

Next Anthology Meeting: 12th of March 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011



Due to the Queensland floods,
Fairfield Writers group will be unable to have their monthly meeting at

Fairfield Library
Fairfield Gardens Shopping Centre, Fairfield Road, Fairfield Rd, FAIRFIELD, QLD, 4103.

A temporay venue has been arranged.
We will be holding all our meeting at this venue until the
 library is up and running.

Yeronga Services Club Inc
Cnr Fairfield Rd & Kadumba St
Yeronga QLD 4104


 12th of Feb 2011      
ANTHOLOGY GROUP        9.30am -10.30am
EXERCISE GROUP           10.30am-12.00 approx

26th of Feb 2011       
NOVEL GROUP                 10.30am-12.00 approx

Yeronga Services Club Inc
Cnr Fairfield Rd & Kadumba St
Yeronga QLD 4104


Fairfield Writers Group
12th of February 2011

Fairfield Writers Group has grown considerably since last year. This is wonderful and in order to continue to enjoy our writing group a few issues need to be addressed and voted on.

Due to our large group we all tend to get excited and not pay attention to other members. So in order that all members get the most out of our group, please keep these two thoughts in mind.

  • Having a quick personal chat is fine during the meeting but wait till we are at the coffee shop for that more engrossing conversation.
  • Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking, wait for your turn.
The Fairfield Writers Group is a group where we can feel comfortable, relaxed and inspired. It’s a place where we can really flex our writing muscles and therefore become better writers.

In order to achieve this, an agenda has been set up so that every member is aware of issues that will be discussed at the next meeting.

In this meeting we will be voting members to fill vacant position, so please have a think about what you would like to be involved in.

Agenda for the 12th of February 2011

A. Positions to be filled:
Carol has emailed a description of each role

Position Volunteers Vote
1. Chairperson-Anna
2. Treasurer-Carol
3. Graphics-Helga
4. Blog-Anna
5. Secretary -
6. Minute secretary -
7. New member enquiries person -
8. Media person      Lou and Findlay
9. Facebook page   Dani
10. Twitter page
11. A state of writing group administrator    Lou
12. Librarian

B. Meeting Room- Update from the library if we have a meeting room or have an area at the back of the library.

C. Workshops-discuss frequency and type.

D. Youth Group-volunteers, organization of the group.

E. List of Skills- collect from all members any skills they have that could be used to improve our group.

F. Writing