The “Listy” Fiction

I’ve used the comment “listy” before when giving feedback. What I mean by that is, whatever I’m commenting on feels like a list. The most common is the psychical appearance list.

“Bob was six feet tall, had brown eyes, and light brown hair. He wore glasses, khakis, loafers, and a green polo shirt.”

Okay, I can see Bob, but his description feels very “list-like.” How can we take the “listy” part out of this? Maybe we can break it up and support his description with details that suggest personality, occupation, and whatever else.

“Bob’s green polo shirt bore the old logo to the West Hills Country Club. His khakis came up several inches on his ankles; he should have shopped in the tall department. The left lens of his glasses had a crack that divided his left eye in two. His brown eyes shifted to the floor when he saw me.”

I left out some detail, such as his shoes. They didn’t feel important at the time. But, can you see the difference? Can you see Bob any better/different? Does he feel more human? Instead of the static list description, Bob now has a personality. Geeky, maybe a bit gangly due to his height, awkward. He doesn’t shop in the right department either due to money or knowledge. His glasses are cracked, which tells me that he’s either clumsy or bullied.

But, the “list” can also come about in the narration itself.

“Sam and I sat on the couch. A light came through the window. It was bright. I stood. I pulled the curtains aside. A giant flying saucer flew past the window. I closed the curtain.”

It’s flat. The narration here is a list of events and actions; “This happened. This happened. I did this. He did that.” It’s not very exciting. English is a combo of complex and simple sentences. Good writing is a balancing act of those sentences, as well as well-placed fragments, emotions, narration, and action.

“Sam and I were sitting on the couch when a light flashed through the window, so bright that I couldn’t see for a while afterward. I stood and fumbled to the window. Ripping the curtains aside, I saw the strangest thing: a giant flying saucer. It flew past our window, and then I shut the curtain. Nope.”

The same scene is happening and yet it feels more exciting, more important, more urgent.

The style of the writer comes out in the sentences, not just the plot. Don’t be afraid to get funky with your fiction. (Not in that way, gutter-brains.) In English class, we’re taught to hate run-ons and fragments, and destroy them at all costs.

Well, heads up – writing an academic paper and writing fiction are two different boats. While they share oceans, they’re not one and the same. They’re like close cousins that go to the same school but hang out with different groups of friends and don’t sit together at lunch.

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