1. Corgz
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    Corgz Senior Member

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    How to be more descriptive?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Corgz, Jul 26, 2012.

    How? I googled this and the best i found was 'sit in a room and describe everything'.

    I tried that but I can't find the right describing words in my head and it comes out so juvenile!

    PLEASE HELP and share your methods abut how to be more descriptive?
     
  2. Prince_Genji
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    Prince_Genji Member

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    umm let me try an example with two very different styles of prose.

    example 1
    The chair sat in the corner. The old man sat in the chair and thought for awhile. I wasn't sure about what. The green walls were cracked all over. A small empty crib rocked with the breeze that came through a window.

    example 2
    A small wheelchair, speckled with ancient rust sat in the corner of the room. The dessicated old man seemed like he might have sat in there since the dust bowl. He never spoke, not ever, and I've always wondered what thoughts might pass behind those wrinkled folds of what must have once been a passionate young man. The walls around him were cracked with age as paint peeled ever so slowly off the darkly stained oak timbers of the room. An ancient looking bassinet with moth eaten cotton fabric was squeaking ever so slightly as breeze from a half open window fluttered in.

    Neither is truly better than the other. Just get add a bunch of details and try to make 'em sound fancy. A thesaurus would help, there are free ones online. Once piece of advice I've read was to write a letter as if you were writing to a close friend and try to describe from your prospective not just what stuff happened but what was there and how you felt about it. my second example is probably better a creating a bleak tone than the first, but the first lets the reader decide what's going on himself. I always use description to set tone.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    First of all, describing everything would make for boring reading. So, I consider that to be very poor advice.

    I'm going to guess that the problem is not that you can't be descriptive, but that you are trying to make your descriptions artistic, or literary. Anything that you try to write that way will likely come out very forced (which is why you see it as juvenile). I have two pieces of advice. One is to read more - read great writers from other eras who treasured descriptive writing, so you can see what the full expanse of description looks like, and read modern writers who are more succinct and direct in their style, so you can see what a tighter style looks like. Two, write about a place that you know very well and like very much - somewhere you can easily picture in your head - and write what you would most want someone who has never seen it to know and appreciate about it.

    Best of luck.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I can't agree with this. I think it is exactly the wrong approach. Your goal as a writer is to give the reader an understanding of whatever it is that you are describing. You are looking to impart information that the reader needs and wants to know. A "bunch of details made to sound fancy" is going to be boring to read.
     
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  5. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    Read. Read much, and read widely, and use that reading to build your vocabulary.

    Then remember that all the vocabulary in the world doesn't give the writer an observant eye. I prefer lean description which uses just a few key details to convey the impression I wish. I am sometimes more lavish with description, but although my vocabulary is one of my strong-points as a speaker and writer, I'm suspicious of it taking charge of my writing, and so it's kept on a short leash.

    Put shortly, technical skill in description is useful, but it's no replacement for keen observation. Work on that first would be my advice.
     
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  6. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Ok, so description is basically a tool to make your setting and characters come alive. When you're writing, think about the setting. Colors of walls, texture of the rug, whats on the dresses (if there are any), stuff like that. Same thing for the physical attributes of your characters. Really try to visualize it in your mind, make it come to life. Then, start picking the things that you would notice, and describe them as if they were in front of you. If you really see it in you mind, all you have to do is pick adjectives that compliment whatever you're describing. And sometimes, less is more. A brief objective description sometimes fits the theme better than a long embellished flowing one. Description is all about taking something that your reader can't see for themselves, and showing it to them with your words.
     
  7. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    The amount of description typically used depends on the genre and I think tends to be more concise in many genres than in earlier decades.

    I tend to prefer writing that gives just enough description that my imagination fills in the details with my preconceptions. It has to have enough description that the reader doesn't fill in wrong details - only irrelevant details. Someone said long ago that they preferred radio plays to movies because the pictures on the radio were better.

    So if you tell me a character's mistress is beautiful, that leaves room for me to imagine a brunette and I'll be thrown off if the guy's wife finds a red hair on his collar. But tell me she is a delicate-looking redhead with high cheekbones, and I can imagine a face I've seen before that will work as well as if she were described in two more irrelevant paragraphs.

    The art is in choosing descriptive details that will trigger most readers' imaginations. I'm still learning how to do that.
     
  8. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    I'm sorry to say, but I'd steer clear of this bit of advice, for it means disaster. Do NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT use a theasaurus.. It will be painfully obvious to anyone who writes well. Most beginning writers have no clear understanding of the shades of meaning each word carries, and just because two are similar in definition, does not gurantee they will both be used accordingly. If you're just starting out, as I am, read, read, read, read, and read some more. Reading good literature will help you recognize proper word usage, and associate meaning through context, while your subconscious quietly absorbs all the information. A dictionary is the best choice, for looking up different words to use, and for reading in periods of down-time, such as while you're on the toilet.

    Anyway

    There are three types of description. (Excuse them if they're terrible, I'm writing in haste and attempting to prove a point.)

    1. Noun-Based Description - Where you are bringing the readers attention to specific people, places, and things, with the idea that they can form the images in their heads, and even associate a personality or a type of characterization by the noun chosen.

    A neon green Volkswagon Beetle convertable pulled into the driveway, the music of ACDC exploding out of the speakers. The driver, a blond haired and pale skinned, too cool looking high-school kid, wearing black Ray-Bans had a hand on the wheel and an arm off to the side.

    2. Verb-Based Description - Where everything in the paragraph becomes active, creating a feel the words themselves are alive, propelling the reader through the story.

    The trees screamed as a gust of wind ran through their rustling leaves. Branches shook and vibrated. Clouds hovered in the night sky, filtering the reflected light of the moon, enveloping the forest in shadow.

    3. Adjective-Based Description - Unfortunately, this is what most think of when they hear the term 'description.' This is where purple-prosey golden rays of sunshine seem to enlighten the reader with nothing but overly figurative language. This type of description relies solely on the use of adjectives, metaphor, and simile, often over burdening the readers senses, darkening the message, and clouding the readers understanding. Now, mark my words, it does serve a purpose, when used properly, with concise, coheisve, and clear sentences, that are strengthened by wisely placed comparisons, that make sense mind you, and are not compared to vast oceans, or jagged mountain ranges.

    The decrepit house stood like a wilting flower, appearing more ruined from blight than from age, or weather. The irresponsible inhabitants surely paid no attention to its decaying wood, or chipped paint. Upon entering the dwindling structure, I felt as if I would wither away myself.
     
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  9. Penny Cooper
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    Penny Cooper New Member

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    When you research more, you can be more descriptive and write as if you are talking to the person. It helps u a lot:)
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Minstrel, and I will only add one other comment. Your first sentence gets you off on the wrong foot because you are writing in first person. Who could ever say if his eyes "flickered open"? In third person, yes, it works to a point, in that it's a reasonable description of someone else. OTOH, I'm not sure if your eyes "flickering" open signifies anything special for the reader. It isn't tied to anything else in the narrative.

    Also, GoldenGhost's advice was spot on.
     
  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Description is really about finding the right word to take a sentense from utilitarian to dazzling. Not everything has to dazzle -
    but it does have to set a mood and reflect something about your characters.

    I like to brainstorm - I take a sheet of paper, imagine my location, and start jotting - not just objects, but incorporating all five
    senses and metaphors, memories, free association - a stream of conscious, firework-burst of words and images.
    From this, you can sift some great sentences.
     
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  12. kingzilla
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    kingzilla Senior Member

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    Extreme Desciption should be used with things that matter. Fantasy and Sci-fi novels do it more because they often take place in alien and fantasy worlds, so the writer has to paint a picture in the reader's mind. Unless it's important don't go on and write randomly:
    As I shuffled across the road, I noticed a blood red, broken down, polluting pickup truck zoom pass me. I saw, in a swampy pond, three little chestnut brown duckling with their mother honking. I kept pushing forward, trying to escape the cops...
    The MC is trying to escape the cops, do you think he cares about the pickup truck and the ducks? How about the reader? No and no. Thus, unless you need to describe something important, describing vaguely and letting the reader imagine is key. Some authors don't even describe their characters.
     
  13. mickaneso
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    mickaneso Member

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    Some of you have mentioned that modern writing has evolved beyond using lengthy description. I'm wondering what the cut off point is to "modern" writing. I know there isn't an exact time scale to this and it may vary but I just want to know if I'm reading/researching the right stuff to develop my craft.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    When people talk about "modern" prose, they probably mean Ernest Hemingway and almost everyone who came after him. He was arguably the most influential stylist in the English language of the twentieth century, and was known mostly for his relatively terse, simple, declarative sentences. He did more than just about anybody else to get the floweriness out of English prose. He cut descriptive passages to the bone, keeping only the most telling and memorable details.

    Of course, this doesn't mean you have to write like Hemingway or his followers. Many outstanding writers have written bestsellers that bear no trace of Hemingway's influence. But you should definitely check Hemingway out (especially the short stories and his first couple of novels) to find out what all the fuss is about.
     
  15. mickaneso
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    mickaneso Member

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    Thank you for answering. About 80% of the stuff I read is modern then. Do you think that the other 20% (pre-Hemingway) is harming my writing if I want to follow the more cut down style? Recently I've read Don Quixote and Pride and Prejudice which are before this cut off, and I want to read all the "classics" so I'm sure I'll encounter more. Or is it good to have a broad spectrum?
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I would always argue for a broad spectrum in one's reading. You need to remain open to varying your approach. I think limiting your reading to one narrative style (or even one genre) is what could hurt your writing down the road.
     
  17. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    The "sit in the room and describe everything" philosophy seems to be in the Stephen King kind of thought. If you want to see someone spend three pages describing a fence post, then he's the one to copy.

    This is how I do my writing: My MC has been around with me since Middle School (and DO NOT ask me how long ago that was LOL) and it's taken a while to really get a grasp on how she looks. I used to think Yancy Butler from the Witchblade years, but she looks more like Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games. So, I keep one tile open on chrome that allows me to simulate looking at my MC in the face..I let her tell me what's going on..and here's how it relates to description:

    Think of the scene like you would a movie. I'll use Hunger Games as an example: Imagine you're writing a story about Katniss and you're running and hiding for you life. Picture the motion, and put it into words. It might take you several times to accomplish it, but you can do it.

    This is a scene I created in my novel and this is what I saw in my head. Jennifer had already been introduced so her appearance didn't need it, or hammer down the wet clothes b/c it had happened earlier. BUT..this is what I saw and then described: Jennifer on the run, down a narrow and shallow mountain river with people in pursuit, it was night, the pursuers were using flashlights, and she had been shot. What follows is a description of what i saw:

    Jennifer’s breath howled in her ears as she ran down the river, shin deep at that point, each step splashing more freezing cold water onto her soaked fatigues. Behind her, in the distance but closing, were four men, their flashlights bouncing as they ran. How could things have gone from quiet to running for her life AGAIN?

    Things had been quiet, and she’d moved past another suit and four patrols, until fifteen minutes ago when two men stumbled upon her. The resulting firefight would’ve rivaled a holovid in its ferocity and speed with which everything happened. In less then two seconds, both men were dead and blood ran down her arm from being winged by a 14 millimeter round.
     
  18. mickaneso
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    mickaneso Member

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    That's a good point. I've only been at this for a year so I've still got a lot left to discover about my approach. Best not to close any doors and keep as many open as possible. Thanks for the answers guys.
     
  19. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    It definitely helps to like more then one genre of writing. I might LOVE sci fi but read some of King's earlier works, Lee Child, Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston, Clive Cusslar. Each one have little nuggets within their style that comes in handy.
     

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