the orange glass cup
(Originally posted 9/5/2012 for a now-defunct book blog. Hard to believe it’s no longer around with this type of quality content.)
With the advent of eBooks it is estimated that by 2017 over 70% of all adults over the age of 18 will be published authors. Now some of you would leap to the conclusion that a self-published writer like myself would be against this proliferation of literature but you couldn’t be more wrong. I would much rather see a thousand authors sell a thousand books each than see one sell a million. Selling a million of anything tends to create the print equivalent of a phenomena like Justin Bieber.
It is in this spirit that I offer the following advice to the millions of you who haven’t published a book yet but are thinking about it: Sometimes an orange cup is just an orange cup.
i.e. don’t overwrite.
I know that when we come upon this cup in your story that it could well be made of plastic or ceramic or paper or any number of metals but the point is, it’s a cup. Of course, technically it could also be made of glass but then wouldn’t you have called it a glass? I don’t want to discourage you, but if you called a cup made of glass a cup then perhaps you should think about joining the 30% of people not writing a book. I am also aware as I read your story that the cup might be large or small and it might even have writing on it but the important thing is to keep things moving along and I really don’t need a thirty word description of the cup.
Unless of course one of the main characters has said something along the lines of “If we can just find that orange cup we’ll know who killed the Professor.” In this case I think it would be perfectly understandable to give us a quick rundown of the aforementioned vessel in the unlikely chance that later in the story that same character happens to stumble into a room filled with a wide variety of orange cups.
Now I realize that some of you are reading this and no doubt asking yourself why anyone would be dispensing advice about keeping things short and then go on to beat the living shit out of the topic of an orange cup. It’s just that kind of attitude that is going to get you nowhere faster Mister (or Missus). There is a point behind everything I write and I would like nothing better than to give you that point but for the time being I forget what it was. It will come back to me soon I assure you, so in the meantime I’ll just keep writing.
I am a professional writer, mind you. I have sold literally dozens of book, albeit mostly to family and friends (and by sold, I mean gave away), so you’d do well to take everything I say and tuck it away in the ‘good advice’ portion of your brain.
Especially about orange cups.
The thing about orange cups is that they are just the kind of thing a reader likes to come to their own conclusions about. It’s about trusting your audience. If a reader isn’t allowed to picture an orange cup in their head without you spending two paragraphs telling them every detail then they will reach the conclusion that you think they are unimaginative. Can you blame them? Do you really believe that your orange cup is so superior to the lame orange cup that they will be imaging that you can’t throw them a bone? If I’m a reader, for example, and the murder-mystery is barreling along and suddenly the detective in question crashes into a solemn room where cigarette smoke hangs in the air and a turntable is softly playing some big band favorite from yesteryear, and he sees the suspect holding an orange cup and wearing a tight cloth cap do I really want to feel as if the author has such a low opinion of me that he will think to himself he’d better give me the details of the cup lest I am imagining it as some fruit-clad chalice adorned with pink umbrellas, rhinestone handles and a large Plexiglass bottom with a live goldfish swimming around it? Unless the book I’m reading is called The Amazing Orange Cup you’d be right in assuming no. I mean to say, half the fun of that scene is letting the reader fill in how lazy the smoke is, moving through the room, what old song is playing and what color the tight cloth cap is. As a writer you’ll never be able to create the mood better than the person holding the book/reader in their hands. So unless the orange cup has a secret button that launches poison darts out of the side of it, then it’s just a fucking orange cup!
Still with me o’ potential book writer?
Good. We professional authors need to stick together…just don’t think of offering me any advice. I’d probably tell you to go throw yourself down a mineshaft.
The mineshaft you just imagined in great detail…