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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

  • Patricia Rice

  • Susan Fraser King

  • Anne Gracie

  • Nicola Cornick

  • Andrea Penrose

  • Christina Courtenay

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  • Jo Beverley
    Word Wench 2006-2016

  • Edith Layton
    Word Wench 2006-2009

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June 2023

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Wenches Statistics

  • Years published: 164

    Novels published: 231

    Novellas published: 74

    Range of story dates: nine centuries (1026-present)

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« Anyone for 300 year old ketchup? | Main | Regency Slang Quiz #4 »


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Lillian Marek

“Horrible things were happening wherever she looked.”

I think maybe that works better if the reader is a child. As an adult, it doesn't fill me with horror, perhaps because the older I get, the more horrors I have seen or read about. If you want to terrify me, you're going to have to give me at least a hint about the kind of horrors going on.

I do not mean that you have to go on and on about the blood flowing or other gory details. I have always thought that the more the gore, the less the impact. Suggestion can be far more effective. And I don't need a great deal of description. A single feature can be enough to let me create the hero's face or the ruined garden in my mind.

Although I don't mind a lot of description either. Like everything else, it depends.

Mary Jo Putney

Wow, C. S. Lewis knew what he was talking about! I agree with what he said--and with you about #4. "It depends."

Sue McCormick

Most such suggestions depends. I believe English Speakers are prone to act as if "one size fits all." In reality, we tailor to fit the situation.

For me, in descriptions generally "less is more." But my mind is probably harking back to the 19th century. When it was the assigned class novel, I read Ivanhoe from top to bottom several times. And I QUITE enjoyed it. But I n ever read the famous description of the tournament. When it was part of the class discussion, I read enough to know what was being discussed. I didn't need all that description. But 19th century views are very different from late 20th, early 21st century work.

Description is less long-winded, so I tend to read more. I'm still a master at skipping if it's too much for my taste.


What an enjoyable post that now has me thinking. I suspect that you and C.S. Lewis are both correct on point four, but the right balance has to be found. If an author's writing is awash with 'terribles' and no description at all, it will not be at all 'delightful!'

Anne Gracie

I agree, Susanna, that description is tricky -- too much can cause me to skip pages, like Sue. Too little can fail to engage me. I think the key is to try for a line or two that "casts a shadow" -- or cause an image to come to life in the reader's imagination. The problem with being extremely precise and exact is that while it might convey the author's intention, every reader has a different imagination, and will conjure up different versions of your image, and we have to allow for that. We also have to allow to readers with not a lot of imagination. . . I feel a headache coming on . . .

Mary M.

I'm with the consensus on #4. Too little description, I'm yawning. Too much, I feel like I'm swimming through a thick, scummy pond. The latter feeling caused me to drop the last Clan of the Cave Bear book when I was swamped one too many times by multipage details about the terrain (which Auel had been describing in excruciatingly beautiful detail since the first book in the series). Same goes for (dare I say it?) ten-page sexual encounters—let me fill in some blanks for myself!

Jumping back up to #2, I have to admit I like the more interesting word in most cases, especially if it's new to me or I've never really thought about its meaning. It's one of the reasons I prefer e-books, as my fingers tap me through to some new bit of knowledge. For example, in the last WW post about elderberry ketchup, a quick ramble through Google produced a substitute for the elderberries we don't have in Arizona: cranberries, which we do have at this time of year. Such serendipity. Chances are high that my Instant Pot and I will be "ketching up" on this recipe soon.

Jeanne Behnke

Anne Gracie - what an excellent reply.

Jeanne Behnke

Susanna - this was such a good read. Too much or Too little, that is the question. Anyway, it is a fine line that every writer has to walk. I suspect if people are reading your work and can't wait for the next book to come out, you're doing it right! Cheers to the Word Wenches!

Annette N

I am a fan of C S Lewis. I no longer write for publication, but when I did, I attempted to follow his rules. And I had never read his rules.

They are rules for a newspaper reporter. And for a reporter, we are working to get the reader to see what we see. Horrible or beautiful, we need to create a word picture.

Thanks for sharing and creating a really good picture for me.

Lynda X

Once again, someone who knows what she is doing can break the rules. Lewis is generally right--I finished (I think) a book a couple of months ago where we were repeatedly told how witty the heroine was and--you guessed it--she said not one funny, succinct, or vaguely entertaining word.
Regarding Lewis's advice to choose the right word (and that's basically what he's saying), I always liked Twain's observation that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.


Rather than the thing itself, I like a description of how it makes the characters in the book feel, which allows me to experience the terror, or joy, or whatever it is, vicariously.

Susanna Kearsley

Lillian, that's a good point. I think it did work for me so well because I was a child when I first read it, and of course there was surrounding context--Lucy rode up to the battle on the lion Aslan's back, and there is mention of the flash of knives and swords, and of the armies being drawn up in two lines.

But yes, the smallest amount of detail can be all it takes--that's what I meant when I talked about sketching a few lines instead of drawing a full picture.

The set of a jaw and the slant of a sidelong glance tells me as much as a feature-by-feature description of a hero's face. You're absolutely right.

Susanna Kearsley

As with most so-called rules of writing :-)

But yes, C.S. Lewis was a marvellous wordsmith, and I loved reading his advice, which boils down to: communicate effectively and simply, and don't try to be flowery for the sake of it :-)

Susanna Kearsley

Sue, you're quite right about styles having changed. I, too, have read and loved so many older novels that went on and on and on in their descriptive passages. I suppose I skimmed some bits--but sometimes I just sank into them, too, because the overall experience of reading those novels is different. It's a slower, more immersive and indulgent read than we're allowed with most modern books, and once I'm in that sort of novel, I just sort of go along with it :-)

Susanna Kearsley

Very true, Kareni. And as I pointed out, even C.S. Lewis broke his own rule when it suited him :-)

Susanna Kearsley

Sorry to give you a headache, Anne!

I think, fortunately, a lot of us writers tend to get to the point where we do our descriptions by instinct, more than anything. We look for those details that will cast those proper shadows, and put them in, and then in rewrite we look for the clutter that's getting in the way, and take it out again.

Luckily, as with everything else in writing, there is no wrong way to do it, and each of us has our own style.

Susanna Kearsley

Mary, I'm glad our posts have led you to experiment with new recipes for your Instant Pot! Please let us know how your cranberry ketchup turns out.

Susanna Kearsley

Thanks, Jeanne. It is, as you say, always a balance. Sometimes I like to wax rhapsodic over the landscapes I'm writing about, or the fabric of my heroine's gown...but sometimes I find I've been struggling and struggling to find the right phrases to describe something in detail, when it turns out that a single word would do the trick.

Susanna Kearsley

Thanks, Annette. I'm glad you liked the post. And yes, I did think, reading his rules, that they were very well suited to reporters as well--people with the daily job of conveying complex information in a few inches of column space.

Reporters see things in real life, and we novelists see things in our imaginations, but we both have to find the right words to put on the page that will allow us to transfer those images to our readers. Thanks for pointing that out.

Susanna Kearsley

Mark Twain also has some good pieces of writing advice :-)

Susanna Kearsley

Karin, I agree. I think if we care about a character and are travelling through the story closely with them, then when they feel joy or fear or pain, we do, too.

But THAT can be an even more difficult thing to manage, as a writer.


Maybe a topic for another post?


I don't like *everything* spelled out for me -- I too think reading is a partnership between me and the author -- in romances, this means I mostly skip those sex scenes that go on and on, page after page, when what I'm concerned with is what that couple is *thinking*, not what they're doing (often described on a nerve by nerve basis).

I want to stay immersed in the story and characters. I want to know what happens next.

That said, I do find the language in much of today's pop prose disappointing - sticking to simpler more common words often means a lack of subtlety and nuance.

It's a tightrope, isn't it?

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