Saturday, March 29, 2014

White Room Syndrome

The White Room Syndrome - aka lack of description

I heard this topic mentioned by Mur Lafferty on her podcast, I Should Be Writing (awesome podcast) and it really clicked with me. I do this far too often. In fact, I will often state that description and setting, along with worldbuilding in general, are my bigger weak points when it comes to writing. Character, dialogue and even on occasion action, I can do okay. But I describe very little and can only use some of the senses if I'm paying really hard attention to the fact they need to be used in the story. I don't describe what characters look like or what their surroundings are like over 90% of the time. It's something I really need to work on with my novels.

Yet I can write 170,000 words in a fantasy story while lacking worldbuilding and description. Not sure how I do it either. lol

So, what is white wall syndrome?

Easy answer: Look at this link -
and here -

Longer answer: Well, I think it's a bit harsh to say it's a failure of the author's imagination (having looked over the items I linked) but the basic consensus is, the white room syndrome is when the story/scene lacks in description that the reader needs in order to really see what is happening in the story. They are left with the characters in a blank (white) room. I didn't know about the link to the white page we write on though, I have to admit. Figured that was a different syndrome... oh well.  Though on the second link, if you find the paragraph that mentions white room, part of it also seems like a different problems some writers have and that's starting a story with the character waking up, but that's also a different ramble I'll save for another day (makes notes for 2 post ideas). It's like having theater players on a blank stage (except in some plays, with a couple black boxes, that's all you really need to put on a good show).

The first link, however, gives a good way to approach fixing the problem at the very end, so make sure to check that one out.

So, you have characters and they talk and do things but you realize the setting is blank. You forgot to add details about the stage. Long as it's not published already, the good news is, it's fixable. It just might take a little more focus and some work. The different senses are a great start to fixing this problem. And not just the visual one. I can do that one okay, I can say what the character notices sight wise but the others often evade me. But if we focus, there is often a way to get them in that makes sense for the story.

I have a scene where a demon goes into a coffee place, for example. It's easy enough to have him notice the chalkboard specials drawn with little designs of some type or another. He can notice the crowd or the lack of a crowd depending on patronage level. He can even notice the clean white shirt of the guy who got him the job (which he'll later have to replace cause it won't be so white anymore). That is a good start but there is more to pain the scene. There are sounds. Coffee grinder buzzing to get the beans ready for the next brew. People talking, cups against tables or forks against plates. Different kinds of noises are possible. Then of course, is the smells. Coffee is the most obvious and the different flavored can have specific scents related to them that are strong. Add pastries to the mix and some mouthwatering aromas can linger (or if he isn't a fan of coffee he can cringe, knowing the scent will invade his life on a regular basis). Taste to me is the hardest because it seems weird to add taste unless they are eating something. I don't stand around at work and think, "hmm the air tastes like... umm something or other." Smell maybe, but taste doesn't register often with me. The trick with taste is trying to find something that makes sense in the scene/story but doesn't come off out of place or cliche, but it can be done. Finally we need to add touch. Well that happens when he touches something, so not too hard to add either.

So, take the start of a scene, story and look at what you have. Can the reader see where they characters are? Do you have a couple of the senses used at least? If not, try to rewrite it with that focus in mind. It doesn't have to be thousands of words and try not to get too purple with the description (ah the color codes of writing) but give them something to see and experience in the moment. Then compare the two and see what you think.

Paint the room... unless, for some reason, they really are in a very white room, then well, let that room be white.

What do you think of White Room Syndrome?
Is this a problem in your writing or have you conquered it already?
Have you listened to I Should Be Writing?
Go listen. ;-)  And have a great writing day!