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It’s Only Words

After being held back by the deliciously curvaceous Wendy I was finally back on the trail up Mount Publication, trudging up the gravelly path, fighting hard against the gale that carried the smoke from the village below upon it, when I saw a gnarly old man, wizened with age and bent with the effort of staying alive.

King of the Mountain by AlexToothI quickened my pace, feeling my boots slide on the glassy beads of stone, the crunch that reminded me of fresh winter snows my only company. As my calves began to burn I fought through the pain and gritted my teeth, pushing on and on, as the wind tried to push me back from whence I’d come. My long brown hair made my skin smart as it whipped around my face, even my ginger beard scarcely protected me from the constant battering of the dampened tendrils.

I watched the wisps of my breath as they pushed forward only to be whisked away by the jetstream that nagged at my cheeks. I was certain that frost was crystallising on the fronds of my moustache, weighing me down, reminding me that freezing to death was only a hairs breadth away.

I reached the warlock on the plateau and he turned to me.

“Finally,” he said, in a bored, gruff voice, thick with the catarrh of a man who’d spent his adult years puffing on the patchouli pipe. “You know, if you stopped describing every little detail you’d have got here much quicker.”

I stopped walking, stood tall and the wind died.

“What?”

“Oh, sure, you paint a lovely picture and all, but let’s face it. You walked up a slope and it’s a bit nippy, hardly the tale of all time is it?”

Himalayan Gold by Anton Jankovoy“Well, yes but I wanted to tell people about my character.”

The warlock laughed. Not with me, at me. It was disconcerting to say the least.

“Your character isn’t in the frost forming on your beard! It’s in how you do stuff, what you choose to wear, who you hang out with, what you carry and how you use it.”

I stroked my beard as I pondered.

“See, right there!” He waggled a finger at me. “That’s a mannerism. Bet your bottom dollar your dad did that too, right?”

He had me there. I’d copied him as a child, wishing I had a long white beard like his. In fact it wasn’t unlike the warlock’s come to think of it.

“That’s better,” he said, “now you’re getting the hang of it.”

I frowned. I had to admit, I could see what he meant. It isn’t in all the minute details, not really. If I’d told you I was a man in an anorak with a tartan flask and a blanket that matched, you’d have a pretty good idea of what kind of person I am. That idea would be based on your experiences, people you’ve come across.

If I’m catching a train, whether it’s going to whisk me off to Hogwarts or to the North Pole, if I say it’s a steam train you’ll have an image in your head. If it doesn’t matter to the story whether it’s red, green, blue or tartan, why spoil your illusion by spelling it out to you?

The Wizard's Calling by allendouglasstudioNow on the other hand, maybe my magic is generated by growing my beard and it gets stronger the more the colour fades. Now you, as my dear reader, need to know that I started in the foothills, clean shaven. As my journey progresses, the beard has grown and perhaps I’m going to discover the magic. Rather than lay down in a hundred words what’s happening, I can hint at it, a scratch here, a chin rub there… By the last chapter, in the final showdown, as the last ginger hair drops out and twist and flutters on the mountain breeze as it floats away from me, you will know that it really counts because my magic has become untainted.

If I’ve blinded you with too much description throughout the novel, you might just miss that crucial nugget of detail, and that would be a crying shame wouldn’t it?

Just as I reached that conclusion, I remembered where I was and turned back to the warlock. He was chuckling away to himself, and stroking his pure white beard. I watched him as I stroked mine. Hold on a minute…

“Dad..?”

“Don’t be stupid lad, this is fantasy, white beards are two a penny and let’s face it, you can’t help but stroke them can you?”

With that he disappeared and I was left wondering if I somehow looked a little wiser. I sure as hell felt it.

Title image by JaxImagery.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar Sam Kearns says:

    I love this – so very true and told in an entertaining way!

  2. Avatar AJ Zaethe says:

    Very well executed! Bravo!

  3. Avatar Quillet says:

    Brilliant!

  4. Avatar Libertine says:

    Why thank you! 🙂

  5. Hah!

    In the face of this post I feel slightly dumber. Your point is loud and clear: don’t overload readers with description. 🙂

  6. Avatar Cindy says:

    This was fabulous and the absolute best way to learn this leasson so that it sticks. I am totally sharing this with my followers.

  7. Thanks Kylie and Cindy, I figured the best way to explain was by example and I’m thrilled that it’s worked so well for you guys? My next article will be up soon and is in the same style so hopefully will also be useful.

    Good luck with your writing!

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