Ambit Creative

Adele Annesi

Adele Annesi is an award-winning editor and writer for global Web content and print publications. She worked as a development editor for Scholastic Publishing, and is a fiction and nonfiction book editor, specializing in nonfiction and memoir. As a press correspondent and columnist, Adele writes for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals. Her stories have appeared in The Circle, The Fairfield Review, Hotmetalpress, Miranda Literary Magazine,,The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Trillium, the Italian-American literary journal Pyramid and an anthology for Fairfield University. She won Poetic Voices of America's editor's choice award, and presents the editing and writing workshops for libraries and other venues. She is a nominated member of Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in American Women. She's also working on a new novel. Visit her website at: Adele Annesi, Facebook, LinkedIn, Redroom, Twitter, and Word For Words.

Beauty in the Breakdown: Installment 1, Editing Description

When autumn arrives, I go into academic mode. Blame all those years of school when fall not only meant new clothing to wear, but new things to learn. With this concept in mind, we'll start October with the first installment of a series called Beauty in the Breakdown. In it we'll cover how to edit various aspects of a story, including description, dialogue, narrative, and scene. We also encourage your input.

Since these elements are common to most stories, we often take them for granted and don't make each word count, because we can still get by without each word saying exactly what we mean. Yet, it's increasingly important to be selective about what we keep and what we discard, because in this competitive environment more people are writing, but not everyone is writing well. So, here are reasons to perfect your craft: to distinguish yourself from other writers, to learn about writing through your work, to hone your editing senses, and to improve your style and technique.

The best time to edit—whether it's description, dialogue, or narrative—is after giving the work a rest. If you're editing your own work, paper is still a great way to see your writing from an outsider's perspective, as is reading it somewhere besides where you normally write. It's also important to look back over a section after you've finished the next. This provides a perspective you wouldn't have otherwise. While editing, slow down so that you can see—and hear—the words and phrases.

One of the commonest facets of fiction and nonfiction is description. Whether you're describing a place, an event, or a character, description is everywhere, so much so that we often fail to view it critically. And a critical perspective, in the constructive sense, is key. If you catch your missteps, your work will be more highly regarded and more publishable. Description is important, too, because through your portrayal, you're asking the reader to trust you, and today more than ever that's a tall order. Still, trust is essential, and a writer must prove worthy of it.

Let's start with the function of description. Because we're continually bombarded with information, it's easy to believe the purpose of any description is to convey facts. Yet, for writers, this isn't description's primary function—just stating facts rarely reaches the core of a piece. When you describe something or someone, you reveal its essence. Interpretation is up to the reader. This approach is most satisfying—to reader and writer.

Here's an example. "Though it was spring, the maple was bare." This, on the surface, is direct description. It's a clear, descriptive sentence, maybe even a bit poetic, and it conveys a fact—the

maple tree has no leaves. The underlying question, though, is why tell readers this? To add layers to a story, there should be a good reason to make this statement.

If the purpose of the sentence is to say the tree has no leaves or that it was a rough winter, then the description is adequate, but static. It doesn't take the reader anyplace because it doesn't advance plot or reveal character. But if I use the same sentence in a paragraph where I show that my character has just had another miscarriage, then the barren maple becomes indirect description, and serves to show my character's acute sense of loss, especially when she's expected to be "in bloom," a perceived shortcoming of which she's continually reminded.

In queries about description, writers often ask which details to include and how much. The question sounds good, but often shows the writer hasn't made enough effort to figure out not only what she wants to say, but why she wants to say it. That's the benefit of indirect description, which can also be conveyed through dialogue. Here's an example based on the premise above.

Diane opened the living room curtains.
Joe stood behind her. "Still watching that maple?"
She turned to him. "Do you think we should take it down and plant another?"

Knowing the story's background, this conversation says far more about what are now two characters suffering through another loss. And that's the key—knowing the story. If you're still unsure about your description, don't ask yourself what you want to say; ask yourself what you want to convey.

One rule of thumb in editing description for length: Longer is better to set a languid mood, convey a literary feel, or slow the plot. Shorter is better to create suspense, convey accessibility, or quicken the pace.

In the coming installments, we'll talk more about character description, dialogue, narrative, and scene. All stories include these building blocks, but that doesn't mean we can afford to overlook how to best use them. On the contrary, if we don't use the best material properly, we can expect the story we thought was carefully constructed to crumble.

We'd also love to get your input. To pose a query on a writing topic, e-mail