Novel Writing: Illustrative Details/Exposition

The wonderful concept behind books, is they allow readers the opportunity to come up with their own interpretations of the stories, and mental pictures of the characters, settings, and events.

The goal of a well-written novel is to place readers in the midst of the story, and on an intimate level with the characters.

A. Reach Out and Touch Readers

When reading a book that completely enthralls you to the point that it becomes impossible to put down, are you able to discern the specific elements that cause you to be so enraptured by the story?

For many people, it is the visceral response they derive from detailed passages, descriptive settings, and skillfully crafted characters.

As a writer, it is important not only to produce rich, descriptive passages and achieve an ever-expanding vocabulary, but to discover new ways to reach out and touch your audience.

Reaching out and touching, refers to the idea of becoming familiar with your readers, learning their preferences, and understanding their level of comfort.

Once you have gained insight into who your average reader is, you then can go about the task of creating stories that directly speak to their sensibilities. Note: This direct approach can help alleviate unwanted diversions from the story.

B. Figurative Language: Definition

By definition, figurative language is the string of images created in the reader's mind by the writer's choice of words and phrases. The term, figurative language, is a broad literary category that includes figurative imagery. Both can be used to enhance the reader's experience, setting the scene, and rounding out a character's personality.
They are often used to create clarity, make comparisons, and to add emphasis and freshness to the story.
Figurative imagery appeals to the senses, and evokes sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Figurative language, on the other hand, can be used for emphasis, comparison, and clarification of actions, character, plot, or ideas.
Common types of figurative language include: irony, metaphors, personification, and similes. The benefit of employing figurative language is that it has the potential of enhancing fiction writing, expressing a view, or getting across a particular point. The protagonist, for instance, might "run like the wind," a simile that may ultimately contribute to developing both plot and character.
Figurative language and imagery can serve the single purpose of keeping things interesting, or it can contribute significantly to the overall content of the story. It can also detract from the story if improperly crafted.
Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was a master at using a rich blend of language and images in his enduring classics. His novel, Great Expectations, illustrates his use of tactile imagery in conjunction with inspired language that sets the scene with metaphors, and allusions to folklore, in this brief passage:
"It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window as a pocket handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spider's web; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade."
When attempting to differentiate figurative language from figurative imagery, the important thing to bear in mind is that figurative language suggests imagery. Not all imagery, though, is figurative.

Images, which can be either literal or figurative, represent sensory experiences. Further, as imagery is a distinctively rich and complex element within the art of literary content, it is considered an essential element of the literary work, as opposed to simply decoration.

Much of the time, figurative language conveys an underlying meaning to the reader. For instance, symbolism, a technique in which the author uses an object, or idea, to represent a specific theme, is a common form of figurative imagery. Apples are often intended to represent knowledge, water a cleansing of one's toxic parts, and travel a sense of seeking out different life options.

However, the writer needs to compose very specific imagery, otherwise the reader will get lost, rather than further involved in the story. A tool that writers may employ to produce highly convincing figurative imagery is that of descriptive imagery. Not necessarily symbolic, descriptive imagery helps the writer to craft symbolic passages that are on target and, thus, effective in guiding the reader.

C. Alliteration and Allusion: adding other dimensions to fictional writing

Along with imagery, there are two additional writing techniques that contribute to adding another dimension to an author's work in the form of both original style and colorful descriptions.


Within literary works, alliteration -- which is defined as the repetition of the same sounds, or similar sounds -- brings a distinct flow to text.

This is best exemplified in the following quote from Dante's Inferno: "I saw it there, but I saw nothing in it, except the rising of the boiling bubbles."

In contemporary novels, alliteration mainly takes the form of consonant clustering; older traditions, such as Old English verse often incorporated alliteration in the form of vowel repetitions.


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Within literary works, allusions are references made to creative works, such as fictional writings, films, fine art, or real events. Because they appear in an abbreviated manner, they provide comparisons, examples, and/or descriptions, allusions are viewed as an economical way writers can communicate specific ideas to readers.

The downside to allusions is that they have the potential of disengaging readers, should they not be familiar with the reference being made.

John Steinbeck in his classic, Grapes of Wrath, often used biblical allusions, along with imagery, to illustrate the struggles of the Joad family, comparing them with the tribulations of the Old Testament Hebrew people.

Although Lemony Snicket's, A Series of Unfortunate Events, was primarily designed to be a book for children, author Daniel Handler used allusions to sustain the interest of parents and adults, as well. Examples of allusions found in Handler's writings include characters' names that had subtle references to other fictional works, or real people often on the somewhat darker, more macabre side. Within Handler's books, references to obscure literary works also abound.

Other writers commonly allude to Greek mythology, classic literature, and works by William Shakespeare. And, as we explained earlier, while allusions can contribute a richer understanding to an author's work, the reference needs to be used when addressing a familiar audience. Otherwise, not only will the sentence hold no meaning to the reader, it also runs the risk of disassociating the reader from the essence of the story.


Overall, a writer's imaginative and functional use of imagery, word choice, and diverse style techniques, offer an array of possibilities within their respective works.

Inclusion and Exclusion

A. Dos and Don'ts to Novel Writing

Sometimes it is not what you say, but what you do not say that is important.

In the case of novel writing, the idea of using restraint of pen was never more relevant. To become an effective writer, it is critical to develop an innate sense of how much information to include, and how much to leave out.The basis for these decisions often stems from a writer's efforts to create a sense of mystery, without overloading readers with excess information.

Novelists should strive to provide readers with enough descriptive information to form their own mental pictures.

A common gaffe amateur novelists commit is to bombard their readers with lengthy descriptions, and endless background passages.

Typically, writers who engage in information overload tend to believe they are painting a clearer, more descriptive picture, that will result in an intimate connection between readers and the characters and storyline.

In reality, excess information causes readers to tune out, instead of being drawn into the story. After a period of wading through endless descriptive passages, readers usually tend to lose sight of the true purpose of the story.
Thus, rather than making for a better read, the more unnecessary details a writer adds, the more cluttered the story becomes.

B. Writing Styles: Famous Novelists

Every novelist has the divine right to choose his or her own style. For instance, Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun also Rises ) preferred to construct short sentences; whereas, William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury and Light in August) favored long, rambling sentences.

C. Consider your Audience

Even though writers are entitled to use whatever style they prefer, some thought should be given to how their words and passages will be received. Much of the time, the style writers opt to employ should be based upon who their readers are.

Determining readership demographics can help writers produce appropriately tailored stories.

For instance, if a writer is a master of "romance-fantasy" novels, his/her audience is likely to be predominately composed of women over the age of 30, with a minimum education of a high school diploma. When composing text, this writer may consider the fact that the majority of his/her readers are female, with a predilection for highly detailed passages, leading to a strong emotional climax.

According to the Romance Writers of America, "To be considered a part of the romance genre, a novel should place its primary focus on the relationship, and romantic love, between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending."

Hence, rather than using extremely difficult language, or overly verbose passages, the romance/fantasy writer may be better served sticking to simple sentence constructions with limited vocabulary challenges.

These determinations are partially based upon findings that women who read romance/fantasy novels do not want long-winded passages containing overly complex language. Instead their desire is for vivid imagery, emotive storytelling, and satisfying resolutions.

D. Creating Brevity in Writing Styles

In order to create compelling text that adheres to a minimalism mentality, writers may elect to:

1. Avoid Cliches -- For the most part, literary critics disapprove of the use of cliches, which they feel contribute to contrived passages. When setting up a story, or introducing characters, writers are advised to consider alternatives.

For example, rather than saying:

Tom DeCilio, the corporate attorney, is a wolf in sheep's clothing. A cut-throat litigator when in court, he often comes across as genial and sincere when clients speak with him in private.

Without resorting to a cliche, the aforementioned example could be more originally reworked as:

Tom DeCilio, the high-powered corporate attorney, is a master at masking his killer instinct when meeting with clients in private.

In the second example, although the writer is able to convey nearly the same sentiment, he/she is able to do so in a fresh and innovative, manner rather than relying upon stale, overused phrasing.

2. Repetition -- To use or not to use, that is the question, as far asn repetition is concerned.
Whether referred to as wordiness, redundancy, or repetition, the concept remains the same -- the repeated use of words or phrases. If used properly, repetition can prove to be a very useful and effective tool. However, when abused, repetition can become a major detractor.

E. Repetition, Repetition

When speaking of repetition within literature, there are three different forms:

1. Advanced Repetition -- This is a reference to the author's purposeful use of repetition to achieve emphasis, comprehension, and reflection of individual characters in the story.

2. Micro-level Repetition -- This occurs when words or phrases are used either too frequently, or too close one another. It is not necessarily an indication that the writer is vocabulary-challenged; rather, micro-repetition often indicates a lack of reviewing and revising text.

Example of micro-level repetition: She loves to swim for hours on end in the neighbor's swimming pool.

Simple Solution:
She loves to swim for hours on end in the neighbor's pool.
More Advanced Solution She loves to do the breast stroke, back stroke and butterfly for hours on end in the neighbor's swimming pool.

Within the more advanced solution, the writer is able to expand upon the original meaning of the sentence while adding additional details.

3. Macro-level Repetition -- A larger problem than that which occurs on the micro-level, it often tends to occur when the writer unknowingly repeats elements of the back story.

For example, early on in the story the author explains how Bob, the central character, has a fear of flying. Later on in the story, Bob's wife, Polly, tells her best friend, Betty, that Bob has a fear of flying. And, then several chapters later, Bob's best friend, Aaron, questions Bob about his fear of flying.

Macro-level repetition can easily be deleted, thereby restoring the manuscript to a less redundant state. The biggest obstacle in correcting macro-level repetition is picking out all of the instances in which duplications occur.

Readers do not need to be hit over the head with details, or retold things they already know. Such an abundance of redundancy causes the novel to become dry and slow-moving. Further, an abuse of repetition shows a lack of respect for the reader's intellect, memory, and/or sense of reasoning and logic.