1. YugiohPro01
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    YugiohPro01 Member

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    Descriptive Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by YugiohPro01, Apr 30, 2013.

    This might be just my problem, but for no one's sake can I successfully write descriptions. I realize the premise behind it - to focus on all or most of the senses and the feelings of the characters to create imagery.

    I also realize that the key is imagining you are in the character's shoes. I also realize that the key is to pretend you are telling the story to a friend.

    Yet, besides these things, descriptions just don't seem to come naturally to me. I can blabber on for paragraphs and present thousands of ideas, but descriptions just don't come to the top of my head.

    So, I don't really need criticism to help me understand descriptions; rather, I'd be grateful if people could provide me with exercises to help me with this problem.

    This might just be a kind of solitary writer's problem which only the writer can improve upon, so that's why objectively I think description exercises are the only solutions to this problem.

    Thank you all in advance.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You need the thread I just started: An unending wealth of images in "Pinterest".

    I wrote out some of the writing rules, (it reinforces my memory). Then I went to the Pinterest page and picked out some images and wrote what I saw:

    Roads: tangled, woven, layered, lit up, stretched, disappeared into the city of uneven skyline, but shaped, thick in the middle
    The sounds and smells ... in my story the protag is seeing the city for the first time since growing up in the country so I've got a lot clatter, and strange odors

    Anyway, the idea is not to write out the descriptions, but to get ideas, what do I see, smell, hear and so on. I did the same walking in the woods with a recorder, but my surroundings are limited and it wasn't convenient not having a keyboard.

    I'm finding I'm better off with this interim step. Maybe you will be too. :)
     
  3. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Use your own palette. Throw away the thesaurus and try to describe objects in your own words.
    For instance, I taste a lot of wine, but I rarely use any of the flavors off the ever so popular wine wheel unless it is a coincidence. I've gone far enough to describe a red wine with a nose that reminded me of the worm farm behind my grandfather's tool shed. At first, it seems like a horrible thing to say, but the wine did have a distinct earthiness and the description was actually a compliment.
    Or, if you are a gym rat: the orange is not round; the sumo tangerine had a lopsided shape like a medicine ball chunked in the corner.
    It doesn't always work, but the unique descriptions and metaphors (that make sense) are the most successful.

    Somebody posted a link to a photography website for inspiration. Find a picture and force yourself to describe it from memory. Remember the scene from Dead Poet Society?
     
  4. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    sorry. double posting
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Read more books and see how other authors do it. Once you go through enough books, you'll get a good idea of what works and what doesn't when it comes to descriptions.
     
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Read poetry - it's got powerful descriptions in few words.

    Also start checking out pictures on the internet - visuals are important - keep pictures of sunsets and
    foilage and flowers, and gemstones, everything and anything. You won't always have time
    to witness a sunset before you write about one but clicking onto a photo can help. Also with
    all these images swirling in your head you can start overlapping and linking one item to another -
    creating metaphors.

    Keep a note pad - jot down things you see on the
    go. It's hard to force an image or description to appear when you're sitting at your
    computer and all you're looking at is a blank screen.

    The idea of using a note pad and creating descriptions is that it's practice. When you go into a
    coffee shop take a few minutes to jot everything down - learn to pick up good details. The way the
    sun angles in through the windows, the scent of chocolate donuts, a waitress tiredly swiping a table
    clean, a man shuffling back to his table with a tray of coffee and shiny bear claws.
     
  7. XtremeOne1
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    XtremeOne1 New Member

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    I like that...I sometimes struggle with descriptions too but I really like your idea of "not writing descriptions" but to think about the smell and hear...Imagine you're self there..

    Sometimes it's just hard to describe, "the slant of the house" or the "granite of the building" or how "the dirt road curves"...just the descriptions to use, to not sound bland is my struggle. And because I often write in first person, I don't want to use words that don't come natural to the characters. If I'm writing a 17 year old boy, I don't want him paying more attention to his surroundings then to a pretty girl in front of him...I want my descriptions to have the voice of the character...and not the voice of a writer(if that makes sense).
     
  8. richardclayton53
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    richardclayton53 Member

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    I think i have pretty much the opposite to this issue!! I have always been able to write quite nice descriptive prose, but am let down by my poor dialogue :(

    I agree with thirdwind though, your only going to get better by reading more. Pick someone well known for their descriptive prowess, authors like Steinbeck or Tolkien or Dickens, and just get stuck in! The mind is like a sponge and will suck up all the good stuff! :)
     
  9. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    I'm assuming you're reading a lot. If not, get on that. Seriously. What I would also do is walk somewhere, sit down, and just type what you see, how you see it. Don't worry if it's not Pulitzer Prize winning stuff. Just write, write, write. And then write some more. And then, after that, keep writing.
     
  10. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    Not every scene description has to be overly detailed or even poetic. At the very least, they should paint a clear picture in the reader's mind. Sometimes all you need is a handful of the most interesting details. I remember in my high school creative writing class, someone wrote a story that had a short party scene, and the only image was that there was a cake with royal blue frosting, and the boy's mother bought them all cheap vodka. Very simple, but interesting enough to stick with me for so many years, because it helped to set the strange tone for the story.

    It can be a bit easier when in first-person POV, because you get a chance to show character through your descriptions. What kinds of things does he notice first? How would he describe them?
     
  11. XtremeOne1
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    XtremeOne1 New Member

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    That's an interesting way to put it. Again, I never thought of it like that. My strength has always been dialogue and inner monoglue, so I'm still trying to hammer down descriptions.
     
  12. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    To write good dialogue and inner monologue, you've gotta have a good grip on your characters, so if that's your strong suit then it'll help you to approach your descriptions in the same way. You can use the character's interpretation of their surroundings to show what kind of person they are. :)
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    My characters talk out loud when I walk my dogs. I can hear how they sound and know when something said works or doesn't work.

    Like, describing the messy house shows your character is disorganized or scatterbrained.
     
  14. XtremeOne1
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    XtremeOne1 New Member

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    I will definitely do that!

    Know if only if I can figure out which tense I want to write these stories in!
     
  15. YugiohPro01
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    That's the thing, dialogue comes easy to me because I can easily suck myself into the character that I'm writing - often times because I model my characters through myself.

    With descriptions though, I can never simply get myself to do it. The thing that has concerned me regarding this is perhaps that I don't know too many descriptive words: thus I'm trying to read books like The Kite Runner, books that offer an abundance of good imagery through those words, but I fear that it doesn't have much of an effect on me (or so I think).
     
  16. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    1.The ingenuity behind the craftsmanship of the shingled roof ensured it would hold fast during the most savage tempest like the scales of Beowulf's Dragon bound together by the bowstring of Odysseus.

    2.The way them fellas put that roof on was like sewin up a bull's ass with a loggin chain, a tornado couldn't take it off.

    I don't know what house you'd rather be in during a storm, but knowing the guys I grew up with, I'd choose the latter if I wanted to stay dry.

    Adding local color to descriptions is a great tool to illustrate setting as well
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you might want to try what i use for my mentees and tutoring clients...

    go to google images and paste pictures of this and that into a document... then practice describing what's in the photo... you may want to write it 3 different ways for each picture...

    and compare your imagery with how the best writers handle theirs... reading/studying how the most respected writers [does not always = the most popular!] deal with imagery, dialog, and so on is the best way to learn how to write well...
     
  18. squishytheduck
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    squishytheduck Senior Member

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    I think for me, effective description in the context of a story has a lot to do with how you present detail and when, that is, deciding what details are most evocative and when to magnify a scene and when to zoom out to action. It's one thing to be able to describe with harrowing detail, but that can also lead to imagery info dump if overdone, and you don't need to have the reader be able to visualize every specific detail in your head as you see it. I think writing is an extremely interactive art, in that so much interpretation and visualization goes on in the mind of the reader, the audience, that isn't possible in other media. Many times, you need to know how much to describe, and do that, no more, no less.
     
  19. Isaiah JS
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    Isaiah JS Member

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    This falls under the umbrella of writing only what is necessary. Try writing without using any description and then read it back to yourself. What exactly is missing that prevents reader comprehension? Fill in the gaps. You can also use certain types of description to give extra information, for example you can use excessive makeup to convey wealth (maybe, depending on how you do it. Just an example).
     
  20. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I definitely agree with this.

    I try to pay the most attention to key details that would be important to the character. It's okay to leave some blanks and let the reader use their imagination. Actually I would encourage it.

    Try not to be too hard on yourself about it. Everyone has different things they struggle with when it comes to writing.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say that descriptions are not so much about precise visuals as impressions.

    It doesn't matter all that much whether a character being described is blond or brunette, green-eyed or blue-eyed. Unless, of course, the character viewing that character happens to distrust blonds or be drawn to brunettes.

    It matters if the character looks like the viewpoint character's mother or reminds them of a teacher that they hated. It might matter that the character looks wealthy or poor, sleekly groomed or sloppy, generically conservative or aggressively stylish.

    Appearance that provides a signal to situation or personality, and to how the character might react to the viewpoint character, is what matters, more than a catalog of height and weight and eye and hair color.

    And the same is true for settings, and objects. We probably don't need to know that the building on the corner is three stories and made of brick, and the one next to it is one story and looks like it was once a bank and is now a car dealership, blah de blah de blah. We want to know if it's a dangerous depressed neighborhood, or perhaps a dangerous vibrant fascinating neighborhood that one would nevertheless exit before dark, or a boring safe new development. A few specific details may feed those impressions, but it's the impressions that matter, not the details - though it's good if the impressions are made up of details and don't have to be explained.
     
  22. Sunny1000
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    If you have someone to help you what you can do is think of an object you know very well and try to describe it to them for the express purpose your partner drawing it as accurately as they can. The only problem with this activity is that it mainly focuses on detailed description and is void of any atmosphere or tone.
     
  23. Mckk
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    What do you notice when you walk into a room, and what do those things make you feel? Pinpoint the objects that conjure ideas or feelings in you, that gives you a sense of the space. If I walk into a living room and see a sofa and a coffee table - that is rather ordinary. But what if I see a half-empty cup of coffee on the table and a cuddly toy propped up on the sofa? That gives me a little personality - it shows me perhaps someone's in the house, or left in a hurry. There's probably a child living here, or perhaps the owner of the house is a woman.

    It's about describing the things that mean something to you/your character, and then using the right words and rhythm to convey that FEELING - it's not really about conveying the way something looks. You're describing the physical objects only in order to make the reader feel the way you feel about the place. If I were to describe my living room right now, I wouldn't tell you my sofa faces a blank wall and there's a kitchen by the door on my right. No. I'd tell you there's an opened packet of chocolate on the coffee table and boxes of beads strewn on another beside me, I'd tell you about the empty computer chair looming opposite me, a reminder of where my husband always sits, his pint glass empty of water beside his laptop. I'd tell you how it was the celebration of love and spring yesterday in the Czech Republic and yet the weather is downcast, reflecting not the supposed blossoms I was meant to enjoy but rather pulling my memories homeward, to England, to remember the mist and veils of cloud that seem to pervade every space and every pore of the land, and I wonder if I'd really like to go home one day - I much prefer the sun.

    From that, you already have an idea of me, my life, and my thoughts. You know I'm from the UK, living in the Czech Republic, I'm the creative sort since I own beads, I'm married and we have some sort of routine set in place, and my feelings of slight homesickness and disappointment at the lack of sun, and that I've probably lived here for some time (only 2.5 years but long enough lol) since I know of some of the traditions. You don't really need to know the heating is beneath the windows or that there's not only chocolate on the table, but also 2 empty mugs, and other things besides.

    Remember the purpose of your descriptions - it is to convey mood, atmosphere and sometimes, insight. How everything looks exactly is not very important usually. That's not to say you don't have to be specific - you do have to be specific, but that "something specific" should be an object that communicates insight into the character or scene.

    Read some poetry - poetry is all about metaphors and imagery and very succinct. If you can describe in a poem, you can probably do it in prose, where you have many more words and much more space than in poetry to play with.

    Another exercise you could do would be this - make a note of what you notice next time you walk into a room, and what made you feel the way you do or think the things you do. I walk into a pub and I wanna get out. Why? Because the lighting is dim, the tables are dark and sticky, and a haze of smoke hangs in the air. I can smell sweat and vomit and there's a wall of muffled chatter and clanking of glasses that suggest drunkenness. I walk into another pub and I fancy staying. Why? I walk into someone's bedroom and I think this girl must be quite out-going - why? What do you think your friends would say about you if they didn't know you and walked into your bedroom today? Why? What would they see that would make them think this?

    Then later, in your writing, you'll learn to utilise these details to communicate what you want to your reader, and how to make your reader feel the way you do with these descriptions.
     
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