1. Hideout
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    Hideout New Member

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    Descriptive writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Hideout, Oct 5, 2009.

    I'm just starting a post-apocalyptic novel. In one of the first couple paragraphs, I try to explain the characters view of the surrounding city, and I just can't seem to get it to be descriptive enough. I can see what I want in my head, but I can't seem to figure out how to but it down onto the paper. Any advice?
     
  2. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Practice! I'm serious, take a few sheets of paper and experiment. Do it tomorrow, too. And the next day, until you see results. You should also actively read as much of your genre as you can, taking into account the issues you are having problems with. Persevere and you should achieve your objective. Good luck.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Just brainstorm a whole bunch of words and phrases that relate to the image you see in your head, then once you have a decent list that covers more or less everything you want, think about ways of putting them together so that the image is clear and the writing effective.
     
  4. Pallas
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    Pallas Contributing Member Contributor

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    Perhaps the problem is you are trying to encompass too much of the scope, in too much detail. Perhaps start describing the city in bits, as the character walks through it. Also, as others have said, reworking a paragraph until it articulates well, is very productive and serves as practice as well. Good luck.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't.

    Trying to stuff all that in a paragraph is like dropping a ton of raqw beef on a hungry man - well-intentioned, but disastrous.
     
  6. xcomplex
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    xcomplex Member

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    I am quite a discriptive writer, yet some people tell me that its too much! I would write how you write and then put it away and read it ovcer. Add and take away whatever is necessary
     
  7. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Show us only what the characters actually see, where they actually are- anything else can be left until later. You can safely have a stretch of description when the characters have a chance to take in the view, but the start of your story should be concerned with getting us into the character's heads and getting us to care about them. After we know who we care about, then you can show us where they are.
     
  8. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    McCarthy's The Road. I suggest that to you even though I personally hated it...
     
  9. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Try "The Gunslinger," by Stephen King.

    Starts off with "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed him" (or something similar, it's been a while). No description, straight into the actions of the characters. Then he pulls back and lets us see the gunslinger, our main character, and lets us see the desert and feel the heat on his shoulders. But he starts off by telling us who we're talking about and what they're doing.
     
  10. Raiden
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    Raiden New Member

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    Perhaps if you have artistic talent or know someone who does you could have them paint it for you and it may help breathe a little life into the scene. Also as mentioned, repetitious re-writing of the same thing can often lead to an acceptable paragraph.
     
  11. Fictionfreak
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    I would suggest not having too much description unless the universe in which your characters reside is fictional. However, one thing that will help is to know your character better. If you have a clear idea of who your character is and how they think, then you have many more doors opened up, and you might not even be in the predicament that you are in now.

    I can't help you too much, its more or less up to you. But if you want to establish the setting, you can find many clever ways to do this and not make it seem forced. Through a character's speech attributes, the attitudes of people, maybe even name brands of cars or stores (but don't do this too much).

    And, if it is a post apocolyptic novel, then you most definitely don't want to be starting your novel with description. Yes, you need it, but make sure you have a hook, because your readers will not care about the description unless they have a reason to want to be in the world that you are about to put them in.
     
  12. pinelopikappa
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    pinelopikappa Senior Member

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    This is how I struggle with the same problem:
    I keep in mind that writers tend to get carried away with descriptions, indulging in the beauty of the language etc. So I try to think as a reader at the same time, trying not to bore everyone to death.
    Chekhov has some great advice on the subject. Perhaps you should ask the Man himself!
     
  13. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    You will have to allow the reader some room to imagine what things look like for themselves. They will do that no matter how much detail you add, and might just become annoyed if you keep pressing. If you want "complete visual control" of how your world looks, then movies would be the media for you. It's not done well in a novel, not any I have read anyway.
     
  14. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    That said, you as the writer need, at all times, to be in complete control of the work. Therefore, it is up to you to decide what needs to be described and how it is to be described. The reader will interpret as readers do, but if they are not interpreting the way you intended, then you may have a problem with control of the text.
     
  15. Kahlem
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    Kahlem New Member

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    I was talking about something like this in class about how hard (or easy) it is to describe things. You can close your eyes and try to picture the scene, but always remember the reader may see something different. Depending on what you're writing a lot or a little description will work. Too much description, the story gets boring and you'll lose many of your readers. Too little and they'll get confused of what exactly is taking place and they'll just have to guess about the extra details, thus making them go off track when you explain those extra important details later on and they learn their guesses were way off.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    And even then, you had better sit in the Director's chair and have a bottomless budget.
     
  17. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Maybe that's because your characters (who are reflecting how you imagine this scene "in your head") are not able to attribute "meaning" to what they see--i.e., they're simply experiencing something that itself parallels the surroundings, but does not necessarily identify it--i.e., devastation of life surely creates a psychological wasteland in any life that remains.

    Like THE ROAD, and also like in real life apocalyptic events, as the story unfolds it becomes clear in time that the scene itself is only important with respect to the impact it had upon "life." I don't know if it's possible to describe (i.e., to "tell") postapocalyptic impact effectively; it simply must be shown through character behavior, storyline power, and significance.
     
  18. Little Miss Edi
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    Little Miss Edi Contributing Member

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    Great advice from people thus far. Just wanted to add that, if a phrase/sentence/image really explains what you're thinking of, but you think it's not 'descriptive' enough, then it might be worth writing it anyway and seeing how you feel. One of my favourite descriptions I read of late is: "popped his eye like a grape." Not very poetic, not very 'artsy' but gets the job done with a squirmy feeling in the reader's tummy :)
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    In your own words, pretend you are just talking to me, tell me what the city looks like.
     

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