I am a library-taught artist. I’ve brought home hundreds of art and craft books, read them, and practiced making messes in the privacy of my own home, which is a good thing. I get to choose which successes go public and which messes stay private.
Some techniques take a while to learn. I know why shading is important. It adds interest and depth. It engages the eye. It helps the eye flow through the drawing. It add perspective. Good reasons, which don’t change that I find it so incredibly boring that I usually skip shading my drawings. I’ve resolved to do better. Those black-and-white squares don’t look half bad.
Shading applies to writing as well. It’s those microscopic word choices that add punch and clarity to sentences. Think of it like spice, a pinch here and there improves the end results.
When should writing be shaded? If a writer can catch certain words as she writes, and change them on the fly, bonus. Most of the time shading works best just before the final grammar and spell check.
Here are five ways to use shading to add interest and depth, engage the reader, help the reader flow through the writing, and add perspective.
Revise placeholdersA placeholder is a good-enough-for-now word or phrase that keeps us from getting bogged down in minutiae that would stop the flow of writing. Very often I use cliches for place holders. Sometimes I also mark details that I need to confirm later, notes to myself like [Did she get Mildred’s first phone call on Monday or Tuesday morning?] Using bookmarks or enclosing text in brackets [these little square marks] makes it a lot easier to find what needs to be revised because we can do a global Find for [.
Remove pseudo actionsCommon pseudo-action movements include turning, running a hand through the hair, tapping a pen on a table, taking deep breaths, and smiling. Smiling is particularly bad. If characters are involved in the aftermath of a murder, they should not smile all the time. It makes them too happy for the story.
Common pseudo-actions settings include eating or having a drink, taking a walk, driving from one place to another, or doing a background activity—picking up dry cleaning, going to the library—that people do in real life, but which has no relationship to the story.
Remove filter wordsFilter words place a character between the detail and the reader. Examples: see, hear, think, touch, wonder, realize, watch, look, seem, feel, feel like, can, decide, sound, sound like, know.
Emma wondered where Jack lived. She considered if she should turn left or right. Left went to the beach; right to a newly-gentrified neighborhood. She decided Jack was more a beach person, and realized that she should turn left.
Left or right? Left was the beach; right, a gentrified neighboorhood. Jack adored the beach. Emma turned left.
Make sure sentences—especially those that turn the story— are powerfulJust like powerful sentences are good chapter endings, powerful words are the best sentence enders. Don't put powerful words in the middle of a sentence.
“Mary-Beth was Tommy’s daughter, but he insisted that be kept secret.”
“Tommy insisted no one should know that Mary-Beth was his daughter.”
Make every dialog a power struggle
No two (or more people) in a conversation should ever completely agree with one another. People having conversations may be 45-, 90-, or 180-degree in opposition to one another.
- 45-degree conversations: One person is trying to make a point or impart information; the other person isn't paying attention, or is in mild disagreement with the point being made.
- 90-degree conversations: one person is trying to make a point or impart information; the other person is also trying to make a point, but about a completely different topic. Think of it as one person talking horizontally and one person talking vertically.
- 180-degree conversations: one person is trying to make a strong point or impart important information; the other person completely disagrees with what is being said, and in fact, may be so angry or upset that they choose to leave.
Quote for the week:
The Southern way of talking is a language of nuance. What we can do in the South is we can take a word and change it just a little bit and make it mean something altogether different.
~Lewis Grizzard, (1946 – 1994), American writer, humorist, and newspaper columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(Around our house, remarks I make are often greeted by my husband’s puzzled expression, and the question, “Were you just speaking Southern?”)