In my last post, I pointed out some common description mistakes writers can make. In this post I’m going to give you some solutions.
After all, you spend hours, days, or even weeks writing the perfect story, chapter, non-fiction piece. You sweat over it, you lie awake at night thinking about it, and you walk around the house distracted.
It’s within your grasp to produce this, yet something’s missing.
How can you enliven your descriptions? How can you make it your own? How can you make it believeable?
Try a few of these.
Solution 1: “Method Writing”
I have developed Anne Lamott’s “one-inch frame” writing exercise into what I call Method Writing. Method writing primes the pump for writing vivid prose.
Choose a small slice of your life (that’s the “one-inch” part) and write about it for 15 to 20 minutes. It’s even better if you do it in longhand.
Be sure to include as many of the five senses in this piece: what did you smell, touch, taste, etc.? Focusing on the details, and instead of describing how you felt about the experience, try to write down the physical and emotional sensations caused by the event. Remember: don’t be overly dramatic.
Try writing one inch of your life for a few days, even if it’s for just 10 minutes. It will give you practice in seeing the world with more than just your eyes, and as a bonus you’ll have a written record spanning the gamut of human emotions which you’ll be able to apply to your writing.
Solution 2: Showing
Now that you’ve done some Method Writing for a few days, go back to your current writing project and rework some of the more limp passages. Try to integrate the sense experiences you wrote about into your piece. Remember that besides sight, which is the most commonly written-about sense, there are four others you can employ in your description.
For instance, instead of “The snow was cold,” how about describing the snow from your character’s point of view: “The snow landed on her face, freezing it into a scowl.” Or instead of “The coffee was hot,” you might say, “The coffee burned her tongue.”
Go easy on the adjectives and adverbs; let the verbs themselves do the heavy lifting.
A good way to think of Show is like this:
Show the effect, not the cause.
Solution 3: Telling with power words
A recent post of mine covered Telling pretty thoroughly, but let me sum it up here:
- Telling helps move the plot or story along. This includes non-fiction, which also needs a storyline or narrative.
- Telling generally uses “to be” words, along with more passive verbs such as “have” and “do.”
- Telling gives readers a break from the more focused description.
- Telling uses more adjectives and adverbs than Showing.
- Telling is explanatory rather than experiential for the reader. We might not need to feel the snow on her face (see above); we merely have to read that the snow fell on her face.
Don’t be afraid to dress up your prose a bit, and don’t obsess whether what you’re doing is Showing or Telling. It doesn’t matter what label you put on it.
Here’s an example of a Tell description that uses power words: “Her sweatsuit was a green blur as she bounced up and down on the trampoline.”
Solution 4: Using simile and metaphor the right way
These are good description tools, as they use the reader’s experience and knowledge to help him or her understand what you are trying to convey.
Simile generally uses “like,” “as,” or “than”; metaphor compares one seemingly unrelated object to another and is more nuanced. Here are some examples:
- He sings like Joe Cocker on a bad day.
- My grandfather is as mean as a hungry pitbull.
- She’s uglier than Cinderella’s sisters.
- She has that Ella Fitzgerald-type of voice.
- He’s the Goliath of the family.
- She’s as ugly as sin.
These and other techniques will be covered in depth in my online course, “Wake Up Your Prose: Description Unpacked.” If you are interested in purchasing the course during the presale, which will land you a special bonus I’m not offering during the regular launch, click here and I’ll put you on the presale waiting list.
I hope this post will help you put more color and light into your prose. Which technique will you try today? Let me know in the comments below.