Barbara D'Amato, in reading the work of beginning writers, finds consistent factors that kill the promise. One of them in particular struck me because they're things I'm constantly pointing out in my edits. I just didn't have this fine label for them: "conclusion" words.
Barbara says she finds. . . "Too many 'conclusion' words. Conclusion words: beautiful, arrogant, ugly, magnificent, ghastly, stately, scary, and so forth." Barbara writes as a member of The Outfit, a multi-author blog by Chicago crime writers.
When used as description, these conclusion words are "telling," and really offer no clue as to what the reader should be seeing. For example, what images come to mind when you read this description:
Allyson was beautiful.
Any picture of Allyson has to be reader-generated, and may have nothing to do with what the author intends. Beauty, being in the eye of the beholder, is subjective. You may think an anorexingly thin Allyson to be beautiful while I think she should see a doctor. Steve may think that a woman with a good extra fifty pounds of love handles is beautiful while Roger thinks she should call Weight Watchers. And so on.
If the author wants us to think Allyson is beautiful, she needs to give us pictures that illustrate beauty, not labels.
Allyson moved with the grace of a ballerina, and her slim figure made any clothing look good. Long hair the color of dark chocolate framed a face that made Johnny think of a princess in a fairy tale, and he wanted to be the one to kiss lips that smiled and pouted and invited all at the same time.
That's not to say that you should never avoid the word beautiful. It can be quite useful in characterizing. For example, here's a descriptive passage from one of my novels. Two teenage boys are going to work on a ranch for the summer and go to a small log cabin that's to be their summer quarters.
Excitement grew in Jesse as they approached the cabin. A place all their own. No grown-ups.
Inside, they stood in a main room just big enough for a double bunk bed, a four-drawer dresser, two chairs beside a small table, and a little space left over to walk around. A battered old radio sat on the table, and an easy-going breeze wafted through the screened door and out the single side window.
A doorway into the bathroom revealed an old-fashioned tub with feet; a metal bar suspended from the ceiling encircled it with a shower curtain. Jesse stepped to the door and looked in. The toilet had a seat but no lid, the sink a medicine cabinet above it but the mirror was cracked.
So "conclusion" words
In looking through samples from writers for "beautiful," I find examples that make Barbara's "conclusion" label clear:
It's a beautiful day, so we drive to Lyme Park.
Can't see the day, can you? Even a stormy day has beauty.
He gestures at a strikingly beautiful black woman sitting opposite him.
No picture there. Oh, we know the impact of the woman's appearance on our point-of-view character, but not what causes it. If we received a picture of the black woman we'd learn what "beautiful" means to our pov character, and thus gain in perspective of her character. But in this case we learn nothing.
Here's an example where the conclusion word is at least followed by the description that leads to it:
They've got two little boys who are utterly beautiful
--all huge blue eyes, blond hair and cheeky grins.
Nominations for "conclusion" words
Please email me with your ideas of what other "conclusion" words are.
I suggest you do a search for the conclusion words listed and any
others you can think of and see if you've used them as description
For what it's worth.
Free edit in exchange for posting permission. You send a sample that you have questions about and of which you'd like an edit. I won't post it without your permission.
© 2006 Ray Rhamey