I love a mystery and YA writer named Alane Ferguson. She’s a talented author, a fantastic storyteller and an all-around great human being. She spoke a couple of years ago at a writing conference I attended in Boise, and I knew right then and there not only did I want to be able to write like her, I wanted to BE her. Obsessive? Yes. Moving on…
I learned some great writing tips that day. Tips for avoiding repetitious words, great ideas for successful revisions, and fun ways to brainstorm. I also remember being warned that there is such a thing as “too much bling” in writing.
“Bling?” You say? What does that have to do with writing?
Picture any middle school or high school English class and what the students learn about the wonderful alchemy of language. Similes and metaphors, and all kinds of powerful comparisons. Alliteration, consonance, assonance and dissonance. Think of contrasts, exaggerations or emphasis; anything that turns prose from dry, crumbly textbook reading to a snappy, fun roller coaster ride of a read.
Alane warned us that too much “bling” is essentially the overuse of any of these magical devices that writers use to make their writing rich and beautiful. Too much of it actually takes away from the reading experience. A writer could come across as pompous, or someone who is “trying too hard.”
I don’t think too much “writing bling” has ever been my problem. I don’t usually attempt to write with a lot of bling, because when I do, hoo boy, do I regret it! The so-called bling I write ends up looking like cheap dollar-store plastic baubles, in comparison to so many authors I read. Their bling? Compared to mine, theirs is more like the real-deal, 100-carat diamond “pretties” the Trumpmeister likes to use to decorate his latest trophy wife.
Now, back to Alane Ferguson and my obsessive nature! One of Alane’s fun little tips and tricks was this: take a handful of those little paint strips from your local “mega home DIY” store and use the manufacturers’ creative names for various shades of paint to help you come up with more vivid descriptions in your writing. Perfect! I thought. Like I said, I can’t do bling.
Off to Home Depot I ran. I happily depleted their supplies of paint strips and toddled off to my home office, where I spread the strips out and began searching for the perfect words to describe a character’s boring, non-descript blue eyes, or brown eyes, or a summer sky, or a wintry setting, etc.
I found the following:
For shades of blue: Blueberry Pie Blue. Blue Lagoon. Azure Sky. Aegean Blue. Spring Melt. Waterfall. Mount Ranier.
For shades of yellow to brown: Egg Yolk. Almond Butter. Tahini. Lunch Bag.
Um….okay. So I tried. “His eyes were blue as the Aegean Sea.” Okay, not that bad. If I were writing about a Greek character, or about a setting near the Aegean Sea, I can see how that could work. But so many of the others? “As he wept, his eyes were like Mount Ranier during a Spring Melt, smoky blue and just as wet.” Whoa, that was bad! Or, how about: “His eyes were the color of a brown lunch bag, after it’s been crumpled and stained with blobs of mayo.” Yeah, that’s a good one! Not!
So I pretty much gave up on the “paint strip as writing aid” thing. I put my rather large stash of paint sample strips to good use, though. I find the worst ones and come up with the most awful comparisons I can think of and create birthday cards for my writing friends. After all, why waste a good paint strip when it gives you such phrases as: “Chasing Chocolate,” “Sliced Avocado,” and “Dried Oregano?”
Visit Alane Ferguson’s website at www.alaneferguson.com and check out her books. In my opinion, she's got just the right amount of bling. :-)