Zadie Smith’s ON BEAUTY: telling the story through sensory detail Reply

In this video we look at two descriptions of the same place, which appear at different stages of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Although the place is the same, Smith is able to advance the story just by changing the sensory details on which she and her characters focus. Being able to do this, to show rather than tell, to use concrete description as an essential part of the story rather than a background, is central to how most writers work. But do remember that mimesis is not the only way to tell the story: there are many alternatives to the cinematic mode of narration.

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Balancing interior & empirical experience (tip 61) Reply

Some writers can become trapped in their protagonist’s minds. Everything is heavily filtered through the protagonist’s consciousness, to the extent that we can lose our bearings in the external world. In this video, we consider how JM Coetzee finds the right balance between interior and empirical experience.

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The objective correlative (tip 31) 1

How can we make our readers feel something? Readers expect a good story to excite them or move them or make them laugh, but conveying emotion is the hardest task a writer faces. Human emotions are caused by neurochemical reactions, and to make a chemical reaction occur in someone’s brain just by showing them marks on a page is tantamount to magic. The secret to working that magic lies in finding an effective ‘objective correlative.’

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Concrete versus abstract description (tip 30) Reply

Concrete description is sensory description; it is the stuff we can touch, see, smell, hear, and taste. Abstract descriptions have no weight or texture. They are ideas, conditions, qualities, abstractions that float around in the ether. When and how should writers use these different types of description?

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