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.
In this video we identify four possible relationships between narrative time and story time. You will probably use them all, and how wisely you move between them will in part determine the strength of your writing. As an example, we look at how Zoe Heller paces Barbara’s first encounter with Sheba in Notes on a Scandal.
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Our series on selecting material for great fiction takes a drunken look at writing about sex and booze.
We all know that cliches make for bad writing, but why are they so problematic? Why do we feel almost outraged when we read one? And when are cliches not a problem?