1. wolfi
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    wolfi Contributing Member

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    "Describe the tree for me"

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by wolfi, Jun 19, 2011.

    Describing is the bane of my existence (well grammar and spelling first in fact just put English) and somehting I really want to get down, anyways my main problem is I cant describe worth anything

    conversation
    "Describe the tree for me"
    "Okay it has leafs, green sometimes brown no its almost always dead as we are in a drought 360 days of the year, it has limbs but the big one was cut off"
    "Which big limb?"
    "The one that hit the window"
    "which one is that?
    the one that got to big

    see where i am going with this?

    It's really hard to get better when the best you can do is not describe it
    Heck even a pencial i have a hard time describing
    "It's yellow but not really maybe more of a brown yellow or not well its long and...."

    yeah dont work
     
  2. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I'm going to be redundant and suggest that you read more. I know that's probably not what you consider to be helpful, but not only is it helpful it appears to be necessary. I don't mean that to be rude at all, but by reading you learn how other people describe things, how they view the world, even something so seemingly simple as a tree or pencil. Through that you begin to develop your own sense of how to describe things and how to paint pictures with words. It's really the only way. Describing it for you isn't going to be all that helpful as it won't be your voice that you'll be developing, but borrowing ours.
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sounds like description said out loud, with all the backtracking and uncertainty of conversation (you have a good conversational writing style if this is indicative of how it is in your stories :D)... Anyways, the good thing about writing is that you get time to put those things down, take out the uncertainties, and turn it into a solid description. Don't act like you're talking to someone, just set out the facts:

    "The tree is almost always dead, with brown leaves, because there is drought for 360 days of the year. The big limb that used to hit the window has been cut off."

    It's not awesome, but it's already better than you rambling out loud. :p See what writing it down does?

    Then you can play with it:

    "The tree is almost always dead, the three hundred and sixty days of drought every year turning its leaves a parched brown. It stands right beside our old house, and when it found times to grow between all the days of dying, it pressed one of its huge limbs against the wall and scratched at the glass until Pa took his chainsaw and cut it down..." cue random flashback to a hot sunny day, lemonade, and sawdust everywhere or something. :p
     
  4. wolfi
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    wolfi Contributing Member

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    Trish I Read a LOT and I mean a LOT, I've been known to spend a whole week on a 7 series book, some of them can get big as I’m sure you can imagine, put it this way, in 4th grade i read Gone with the Wind (understood it enough some of it was over my head but I figured it out but MAN was it dry) So I’m one to read the “hard books”

    I'm more of a text book guy now how ever, books with things like Music, Biology, Religion, history, those things.
    So maybe that’s the problem, I'm not reading Books that describe as I am reading text books and what not.


    The All mgihty: (ha)
    Thanks for the Advice I shall try what you have said.
     
  5. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    You can read historical fiction, like The People of the series by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear if you're interested in history and still want good descriptions. Possibly a "dry" series at times, but beautiful descriptions and as for history you can't ask for more. This series is about Native Americans, but there are others that do the same. I wasn't implying that you don't read, just that maybe you need to pay more attention to how things are worded?
     
  6. wolfi
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    wolfi Contributing Member

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    Ah my bad, I can't tell you how many times pepole think I don't read because of my english skills.
    Anyways, it sounds nice form what you said, but of course I have to be the one to judge for my self
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It sounds like one issue is that you feel an obligation to be very precise and accurate - for example, "...maybe more of a brown yellow or not..." You'll probably need to abandon some of that precision in order to be clear about the primary message. If the exact color isn't important, you can pick the simplest way to express it - "yellow" - and move on.

    The question of importance makes me wonder if you also find yourself having trouble with the priorities in the description - whether the exact shade of yellow matters, whether the color matters, whether the main message is the functionality, and so on. Again, you generally have to pick a priority or priorities and go with that.

    Also, when describing something, you often have to pick a beginning concept, so that the reader has something to build his mental picture around. You could start with:

    "A pencil is a writing implement made of wood..."
    "A pencil is a long sticklike object..."
    "Pencils are an essential part of the schoolchild's supply arsenal..."

    Similarly, what's important about the tree? That it's big? That it's green? That it's sick? That you have childhood memories of it?

    Which leads to another question: What can you assume that your reader already knows? And what will run counter to their expectations?

    If they already know what a tree is, then you don't have to say "it has leaves" or tell them that the leaves are green - you can assume that they know that most trees have leaves and that they're usually green. The things that run counter to expectation are the brown leaves and the cut-off limb. The things that they don't know are what kind of tree it is, how large it is, where it is in relation to other objects.

    ChickenFreak
     
  8. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    I agree with Trish. Read more. While reading, focus on the descriptions. Write them down if you have to. Study them. Break them down. How did the author bring something to life in how he/she described it? What were the most catching words? Did he/she use creative metaphors? Try taking the same description in the book and rewrite it yourself using what you've learned. Rewrite it again and again in very different ways.

    What I do to keep my descriptions sharp is ask my fiance to point out something mundane in the living room, bedroom, outside, or whatever may be the case. Then I pull out my notebook and describe it as creatively as possible in dozens of ways until my hand hurts or my brain just can't think of anything else to say about it.
     
  9. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Pardon me for going against the tide but ... I would NOT recommend reading more, particularly since you assert that you do read ... A LOT! Rather I would suggest that you LOOK more. Or, rather, look deeper.

    I knew a fellow once, was an artist. One problem he had, for many years, he couldn't see what he was looking at. He painted a bridge once but, in failing to insert the pilons beneath one end of the bridge, it gave the illusion of the bridge running right into the side of the hill. He knew what he was looking at but he couldn't translate that to the canvas. He did, eventually, learn how to paint what he saw and eventually made a fair income from hiw work.

    And that's what you need to do, too. Go to a park or a cemetary or some other heavily landscaped location where you can be relatively alone within yourself. Sit down with a notebook or recorder and start describing one thing. Say perhaps a tree. Look not only at the fact that there is a trunk, branches, leaves, twigs but look at the empty spaces among and around all of those things. Consider how tall the tree is. How wide do the branches reach? What is the ground like beneath the tree? Is there grass growing there or has the tree been there so long the grass gave up trying to grow there? How old do you imagine the tree to be? Is it a thick-trunked oak or a thin, winnowy elm? If it is an old tree, think about what it might have seen. Old enough to have witnessed the savagery of a civil war battle? Were young men laid in its shade to await a horse cart to carry them off to a field hospital or just to await their death?

    Do the branches reach out from close to the ground where children might take advantage of the opportunistic climbing and the tree's branches envelope those children to hug them and embrace them and caress them with the fingers of its leaves? Or do the branches reach out from over your head - a protective umbrella, a shelter from one of life's many storms?

    How old do you think the tree is? Can you see sunlight glinting between the branches or is it a densely packed tree?

    Close your eyes and listen to the branches and leaves as the winds buffet them about.

    The key to good description is to move outside yourself. Look deeper into the things and people and situations you describe. Like human beings, that tree you described in your opening post is alive. No, not like Hobbity Ents, really a living thing.

    Another good exercise (also a GREAT story trigger), find an intriguing grave marker in an old graveyard. Imagine the life of that person. What kind of life did they have? Did they die old at 49? Or does the little lamb atop their stone hint that the body laid to rest there was that of a tiny child or one lost at birth? Did the person die during an epidemic or famine? (Those questions always take me to my computer to research the history of the time.)

    In my opinion, reading other people's descriptives does little to improve your own ability to describe other than to lead you to copy someone else's imagery. It is far better, both for improving your descriptive abilities and your creative writing gifts overall, is to learn how to see and to understand more acutely what it is you see to better write down what you are seeing. You cannot, after all, describe something if you do not fully see it.

    Ooh! Sorry. Didn't mean to go on so long.
     
  10. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Actually I agree with most of what you've said, thewordsmith. Definitely those are helpful, and also necessary things to do. The thing that reading does though, is it teaches you how to put those impressions together, how to make them into the picture that you see (once you see it). It's not teaching you how to write their way, it's teaching you how MANY writers do it and you learn what you like and don't and develop your own voice. It will always be valuable.
     
  11. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    My take on that is that, if Wolfi, or anyone else, has done extensive reading anyway and, as a writer, one would hope that was analytical adn critical reading as well as pleasure reading, he has seen the way others do it. The problem at this point, then, is being able to actually see what he is describing. Certainly, if he is a novice writer and his reading has not been of the critical, analytical variety, then he certainly does need to go back and read again with a more critical eye. Still, the hazard of borrowing someone else's descriptive style, albeit unintentionally, is always present when you invest too much in reading how someone else does it and risk turning beautiful words into cliche. It is always more important to discover your own writing style than to learn to appreciate someone else's.
     
  12. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    And I agree with you, the thing is that most people, even new writers and sometimes more advanced ones, often still get lost in the story they're reading and miss the significance of how the words are used. The more you grow as a writer the less likely you'll be to borrow someone elses descriptive style (and if you're turning them into a cliche that's most likely outright plaigarism).
     
  13. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    I always love the phrase, "Show do not tell." It is a story and in the end it has to be told unless it is a movie. To paint a picture without a paint brush but with only words is hard to say the least. I have always thought of painting with words is something for someone who can not see.

    Ok, I digress. A trick I use is to thing of how you would describe the color blue to a blind person. You have to use things that both you and the blind person can relate to. Being that he is blind you can not use any sight so you are left with hearing, taste, and touch. You would use things like ice, silk, any thing soothing to describe blue to a blind person.

    Relate to your reader, use things that your reader would know.

    I do not know if this helps, we all have to find our own style and what works for us. Good Luck in your quest.
     

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