Giving nouns dimension

Last week I blogged about trying to run before I could walk: trying to fill in the details of my story before I had a proper outline and structure. I also considered how to create three dimensional (as opposed to flat) characters and plots, building also on previous discussions about making fiction (even magic) believable.

This week I have realised that the techniques I have already written about in my non-fiction books for parents on the quality of Key Stage 3 English – actually apply to my own fiction writing. Obvious really, isn’t it. The skills and techniques taught to students are what we fiction writers apply to our writing. So what are these magic touches that add quality?

This is what I think. Writing has three distinct strands – word level, sentence level and text level. As writers we have to think about the parts as well as the whole, and how the smaller parts (words) fit into the medium sized parts (sentences and paragraphs) – and how these fit into the overall structure of an entire text – whether it is a story or a poem. So let’s start with the smallest components – words.

Firstly, nouns. Of course we all know what nouns are, but as fiction writers, how do we create better, more varied nouns and noun phrases that help maintain reader interest? What is a coat? A strange question, but bear with me. The noun itself is fairly bland. A coat is a coat. A door is a door. A cup is a cup. They are all boring. They have no colour, size, shape, detail – or mystery about them. So let’s liven them up. My coat may be green, or emerald. It may be calf-length, with a hood or fur collar. With these details, we can see the coat as we read.

The door may be wood, painted or not – or metal? What colour? Scratched? Streaked with dark, red stains? It may have a note pinned to it. Now the door is interesting, maybe mysterious. What is on the note? Might those streaks be blood? Our interest is enhanced.

As I was writing about nouns in my non -fiction book, it occurred to me that we rarely consider the difference between nouns and noun phrases. A bag, as a noun phrase, could become – a tiny, red, leather bag. Similarly, a knife might become – a serrated kitchen knife with a six inch blade.

As I think about this I realise that it is the combination of words in the noun phrase that change that bland, flat and single-word noun – into something more three-dimensional. I also realise that some of the nouns in my own fiction books for children would be greatly improved, if given this three-dimensional treatment.

What then, do I want to create from my noun phrases? To tempt and tease readers? Interest? Variation – avoiding repetition? Mystery perhaps? Writing that is more visual – as imagery? Of course, we all want to create these qualities in our fiction writing. So what am I going to do for the rest of this week? Revisit my nouns and see if I can improve on them.

Have a good writing week.

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