Monday, November 28, 2011

The Writing Craft: Description

Hello everyone. I'm still sick and pretty tired of it. But I will endeavor to post this week. On Wednesday Ty Johnson is stopping by for his blog book tour and I hope you all will come by. On Friday is Romantic Friday Writers which is a flash fiction story featuring a picture as inspiration and a story that includes romance.

Alex J. Cavanaugh asked about description. Specifically how to add enough description the first time through? There isn't a fix to this Alex. You have to train yourself to do it. Some people have too much description and others have flat and underdeveloped description.  I will share my method and hopefully you all will be inspired.

I am a trained artist. Color is important to me. As a child I viewed the world differently than my family members. I saw beyond the tall grass and weeds to a world that hummed with life. I have lived in Nebraska, Colorado and Minnesota and when I was a child our family took month long road trips. I can tell you that each place has its own feel, its own hum, its own life oozing out of the corners to envelope those it touches.

As a child in Nebraska, my brother and sister and I ran wild at night with our friends catching fireflies. I saw magic in their glow. Later we moved to Colorado where the grass was spiky from lack of humidity and hurt my bare feet. The mountains spoke to my insignificance and I began to search for God. Found Him. In college I lived in several locals in Minnesota, land of ten thousand lakes. Autumns in Minnesota are vibrant and beautiful and the first frost left ice crystals like fairy dust all over the trees, houses and windows. I loved Minnesota.

With this background I can shut my eyes and imagine a world rich with color and life, with sweltering heat and freezing cold, with damp rain or wind that rattles the shades. I can smell the world around me. I can twirl in my imagination and see the buildings and people, smell the pigs or horses, flick away a fly. Perhaps I have an unfair advantage. But I am not a science fiction writer, as is Alex, and there is no way I could describe the intricate details of a machine that is critical to the plot.

What do I recommend for those of you who don't get all the description you need the first time though?

Slow down. When you do your research or you're out and about take notes, take pictures, write down or record in some fashion what you see, smell, and taste. What do you hear? What sensations are available to the touch? Then imagine one of your characters in that same place, what is different about it to them? What do they experience? With this type of discipline, you will develop the skills necessary to give your novels a rich backdrop that will cause the readers to get lost in your world and make it their own.

I hope that is a help to all of you. Let me know if there are any burning questions you would like answered.
To read previous Writing Craft post go here.

Alex J. Cavanaugh wants to know how he can add enough description the first time through.
Golden Eagle and Michael Di Gesu wanted to know about back story and information dump. I broke this up into several post.
Still to come:

Riya wants to know how a writer decides on a genre since she reads in many different genres.        
Nas Dean wants to know about show don't tell.            
Mike Rushhoeft suggested a list of words to avoid. Good idea Mike.

Need additional help? Email me for class information.


Anonymous said...

incorporating the five senses is vital to description and keeping the reader engaged. I not only use all five, but also how do the characters react to a sight or a sound. Its not enough just to describe what they are seeing or hearing. Can that bump in the night be an open door for the character to react in a certain way and then introduce a twist or turn in the plot.

LTM said...

ugh! So sorry you're still battling the bronchitis! Get well soon, my friend! As for your reply to description, that has been my biggest focus point/mantra: "Slow down."

As soon as I slow down and start focusing on points that need more of whatever, it all starts coming together. But I do think the first time through, the most important thing is capturing the story. So maybe this is a revision step--?

Take care, :o) <3

N. R. Williams said...

You're so right Stephen, the five senses are critical.

Hi Leigh, Each of us struggle with different aspects of writing. There are a lot of things on my revision lists.

Thank you both for coming by and leaving a comment.

Anonymous said...

Nancy: A while back I read that you were ill. I'm so sorry you're still not feeling well, but I'm glad you stopped by. We all struggle with something.

Yes, I have been doing quite a bit since we last "chatted." I did self-publish two short stories, one a novelette length memoir. I wanted to see if I could do it, and I think they turned out well.

My strength is dialogue, not description. I need to learn to do the latter better. Your comments here about that are excellent--taking pictures, record what you see, smell, touch, etc. It does require discipline.
Ann Best, Memoir Author

Carol Riggs said...

Hope you get over those germs SOON! These are great ways to think about adding description into our prose. I try not to go on and on describing something though. If more than a short paragraph, readers are like me--they start skimming!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If I go any slower, I'll stop writing! But I get the idea. I guess on the bright side, I never have to edit out large chunks of description.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Ann, glad to see you and also happy my post was helpful.

Carol, you're right. We don't want the readers to skim.

No short cuts unfortunately Alex. I hope this was helpful for you.

Thanks everyone for stopping by.

mooderino said...

Excellent advice. I think taking a moment to take in a scene and see it from the characters pov is always a good idea.

Moody Writing
The Funnily Enough

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Mood, I agree. Thanks for coming by.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nancy .. look after yourself - but it's good to 'see you around again'.

Amazing childhood you had .. and I love those descriptions .. as readers we just need to be captured and involved in the book around us ..

Thanks for these thoughts - hope you feel better each day .. Hilary

N. R. Williams said...

Thanks Hilary.

Southpaw said...

I'm so sorry to hear you are still ill. It's a stubborn bug!

I do like to take pictures of places and objects that inspire me or have a certain feel to them. When I'm writing I can refer back to them to remind me of what I saw and felt.

L'Aussie said...

Nancy, this is so helpful as always and thanks for the shout out for Romantic Friday Writers.

Your post is up!


N. R. Williams said...

Pictures are great Holly.

Hi Denise
You're welcome of course. I love Romantic Friday Writers and think it is one of the best decisions I made to participate.

Thank you both for coming by.

Inspector Saahab said...

this is good ! you have shared a lot. for my first visit i have read until here and shall continue the rest next time.

thanks for sharing :)
very helpful :)