1. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Using more descriptive words

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Magnatolia, May 3, 2014.

    Hey guys,

    I am taking a step back from my novel writing. Needed a breather and decided to focus more effort on my non-fiction series as in all honesty these were pretty close to completion.

    I'm also taking the opportunity to do some research around descriptive word choices and that sort of thing so when I go back to my novel I will probably do an edit on what I already have to add more description. I was also having a bit of trouble figuring out the plot but I have jotted down about six more scenes I want to include.

    Firstly, is there any descriptive word list books you would recommend? Especially ones that really help to teach you how to use the words, not just give a bunch of words. Which is also great.

    What I'm finding is I realize some key scene descriptions/details that I didn't even think about. Like for example I was looking at the preview of a kindle book on descriptive words and they mentioned weather, such as claps of thunder, flashes of lighting, and I realized I'm pretty sure I don't have a single scrap of weather detail in my book. Yet for a horror/suspense (what I'm writing), weather is the ideal mood carrier.

    This is one little bit I have currently:

    “I know. That’s why we all need to be careful. Accidents happen, but if we can mitigate some of them then we stand a chance of surviving this.”

    An hour or so passed when they decided to pull up the net. They reached over and grabbed a handful of net, pulling it up towards the boat. As it surfaced they saw lots of smaller fish flapping in the net. Thomas yelled as a hand reached out of the net and latched onto his arm. He felt himself being pulled into the water. Carl grabbed the fishing spear and lodged it deep into the zombies head. The water clouded with red as the zombie bled out.

    And this is my attempt at putting some weather in there (thinking about the weather, it feels like it would smooth the jump from peaceful and relaxed to 'oh my god zombies got my arm' (plus I doubled my word count without trying to get more words):

    "I know. That's why we all need to be careful. Accidents happen, but ig we can mitigate some of them we may just stand a chance of surviving this."

    Overhead the stark-white clouds had taken on an ominous shade of ash-grey, and low rumbles echoed through the sky. A single flash of thunder lit up the horizon where sky and water formed their union. Another flash of thunder, followed closely by a thundering boom threatened to tear the clouds open.

    "Damn, that storm came outta nowhere. Better get back to shore." Thomas nodded and they reached over and grabbed a handful of net, pulling it up towards the boat. A lone drop of water fell from the skies, bursting on impact with the wooden base of the boat. Thomas watched lots of small fish flapping helplessly amongst the netting. Something grabbed his hand and he let go of the net with a yell. A manged hand latched on to his arm. He tried reaching for the other side of the boat as he was dragged towards the velvet-darkness of the water. A head, attached to the arm, broke the surface of the water and Thomas tried to kick it. Carl leaped past him and lodged a fishing spear deep into the zombies eye socket. The eyeball burst into a pool of viscous white liquid and the zombie sank out of sight. The water clouded with crimson as the zombie bled out.

    Thanks!
     
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  2. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Man, adding this level of detail feels like my writing just pops! In the one section of the story I've literally doubled everything I touch. Most of it is mood-related such as the weather. Obviously I wouldn't write about the weather unless it had an impact, even if it's just to set the mood.

    I had this one section where my female character was feeling bad about freezing the fish they caught, and whether they felt anything. She feels like their cold, listless eyes are following her. She has a chat with the guy who's gutting and filleting them, and he says he doesn't really know but that's what he tells himself. Then she turns away from their accusing stares. Just makes it feel so much more better. I think I've realized why I was kind of stuck at the 55,000 word mark, because there's only so many plot points you can have before you need to go back and fill in these kind of blanks.

    I got all this from just reading one or two pages of words and sentences about descriptive writing. I'm also looking at lists of words to describe character emotions, feelings, actions. It gives me so much more range to work with. Looking at taste words for example, I would say the fish tasted good, but as they're freshwater fish, I can say The fish was moist and succulent, not like that briny, salt taste of store bought fish. Huh. So this is why people love freshwater fishing so much.
     
  3. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    Some good description can be incredibly vital, but you don't need to bash the reader over the head with it. I've got quite a bleak and minimalist style courtesy of "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, so this could be down to a matter of style, but personally I think your description of the weather could be much more concise. Here's how I would write it. (I changed the thunder to lightning. Flash is more of a visual description I think.)

    "Overhead the clouds had turned a shade of ash grey, low rumbles echoed though the sky. A flash of lightning lit up the horizon, followed closely by its thunder."

    There was a dude that said; "Good writing is like a pane of glass." I can't remember who it was, but basically he means that you can look right through the writing - Too many unnecessary words will just obscure the reader's view into your world and your story.

    I would go on further but I feel like this would end up just being a critique which is what the writing workshop is for, if you post a longer section up there I'd be more than happy to go through it.
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    JMO, but description should help the reader see the setting, feel the mood, picture the character - but not, as HelloThere noted, bash them over the head with it.

    I'd also be careful of these word lists you mention - sounds very much like surfing a thesaurus, where one thinks synonym means same. Make sure you actually understand what these words mean (and that they are appropriate for your audience).
     
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  5. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Thanks @HelloThere, I prefer the colourful description over the bleak. I do agree though not to bash the reader over the head. For example if you're describing brick houses you don't need to point out how meticulous the positioning of the bricks is, unless it's the protagonists brother who did the work for example. I agree that stark-white may have been unnecessary, although I was using it to show that they weren't expecting a storm.

    @shadowwalker, agreed. I believe the description I'm writing helps the reader see it, not force it down their throat. Obviously this level of description won't always be of use, especially in an action scene where less is more.

    Not sure why you would consider word lists wrong. Synonyms means similar, not same. I wouldn't use a word unless I understood what it meant and it clicked with all the pieces around it. Word lists have the ability to expand your vocabulary choices. Instead of always saying the wind howled between the buildings, you could say the wind tore between the buildings, the sound of a thousand damned souls shrieking from its depths. Each word choice is like a paint stroke. If I say he was tall and skinny, it doesn't do much for me. It's boring and dull. However change a word and he becomes tall and lanky, or tall and as wide as a bean pole. Suddenly that word choice paints a different picture. Lanky makes me think more about the length of his limbs. Wide as a bean pole compares his skinniness to something else that is skinny. But yes, if I didn't know what lanky meant it wouldn't be a good word to use.

    Again, word lists are just a prompter. What I find is by changing a word, I suddenly have more to write. The description above of the damned souls has more to be told. X bent over and hurried towards her house. Tendrils of whispy air, like hundreds of small hands, clutched at everything. Her handbag. Her hair. White sheets whipped through the air, slaves to the smokey souls. Great way of saying the wind ripped at her hair and her handbag.
     
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  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I didn't say I considered word lists wrong. I said to use them with caution, just as one uses a thesaurus with caution. Description is good - but quite honestly, your examples (particularly that last one) are stepping mighty close to purple prose. One has to be very careful not to get so enthralled with the words that the story gets pushed aside, even temporarily.
     
  7. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    I think I would disagree with you there, "The wind ripped at her hair and her handbag." is the best way to describe a woman who's hair and handbag are being ripped at by the wind. There's a time and place for beautiful descriptions but not when a woman is walking to her house with a handbag, I realize that was just a quick example but the point still stands - don't let your writing get in the way of story.

    That's my two cents anyway, I hope it helps.
     
  8. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    That last example was definitely over the top. I couldn't actually see myself using that. I don't believe the first descriptive example is over the top as it is used to build the mood of the scene. They've had a deep and painful conversation, and the storm reflects what's in their hearts. I've pulled up other sections of my writing and found no need to add more description. A lot of my description is also connected to my characters. For example in my first example I believe I capture the action quite concisely. As in I knew when to switch off description. I could have gone over the top and written something like A chubby hand reached out of hte water and grabbed Thomas ankle. The body bobbed to the surface. Thomas couldn't believe that a human body could expand to that size. It was enormous, bloated like a balloon ready to explode. But obviously that's a really bad place to describe anything but bare-bones human emotion and action. I could add to the action by adding a little bit of description (or rather depth) to the character emotion and action. Thomas panicked and tried to grab the other side of the boat. The whole thing rocked violently. He heard Carl yell and a splash. Shit, shit, shit. Thomas aimed a kick at the creatures head. Nothing. I feel that this would still keep with the action, add a little bit of depth to the emotion and action. He panicked (natural automatic response), made an attempted acttion, heard Carl yell and a splash (I don't need to describe what Thomas thought the splash meant). His thought - shit, shit, shit - already gives the reader a very clear idea of what he thought the splash meant.

    @HelloThere 'The wind ripped at her hand her handbag' would be ideal if the scene was focused on the action. It's short and to the point, allowing the reader to keep most of their attention on the ensuing action. I would have stuck with something of a similar nature if this was part of a scene I was actually writing.

    This is a rewritten part of the scene, a bit further on. Paragraph two is too much and will be rewritten although I love the connection between the beat of the rain and a lousy drummer. First paragraph feels right because, while there's more detail it's interspersed with Thomas' thoughts and feelings.

    ----------------------
    Carl drove at a snail’s pace. Thomas wished he would drive faster, but they’d be liable to lose control in this weather. He watched out the windows nervously. All he could see was a washed out sheet of rain. Shit. I hope they can’t see us either.

    The rhythmic pounding of rain was like someone who called himself a drummer because he could beat out the same note. If it hadn’t been such a dangerous situation Thomas would have loved nothing more than to sink back in the plush upholstery and let the drumming rain lull him to sleep.

    They arrived back at the farm. As they drove through the gates a scraping emerged through the steady rain. Carl looked over at Thomas sheepishly. “My bad. Misjudged the gate.”
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    If you know me on here, I'm all for beautiful prose. I'm a huge fan of Nabokov. I can can get pretty purple or at least mauve lol.

    However, and I'm still learning this - beautiful words have to fit setting, meaning and content. Velvet-darkness of water sounds luscious but it shouldn't - not when an unwanted zombie is trying to drag you down into it. You can go for great visuals but they should always link in with whats going on. Hellish black water or something like that might be more appropriate.

    This metaphor has a good intention but now is the time for a luscious note or two to show the fact that the rhythmic rain is nearly putting Carl to sleep. That way you can stay in the action. The one note drummer metaphor actually could keep someone awake unless you could make the idea more sleep-inducing. Try adding words to it to soften the image. Make it sleepy.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
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  10. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Thanks @peachalulu that was great. I agree with the velvet-darkness, I was trying to go for an eerie feel with that word choice. What else is under the water without having to worry about actually jumping out of the water. But I think your suggestion of hellish-black water can steer me in a better direction. Maybe towards the pitch-black death trap. I'm paying attention to the amount of detail I provide in action-scenes to make sure I'm not diluting the action/tension. I also need to pay attention to the word choices I do use though.

    Thanks for the metaphor comment. By making it sleepy I didn't really get this. Although when I reread it I realize that pounding, If it hadn't been such a dangerous situation should be softened. That second one I realize was my attempt at narrator to transcribe his fear of falling asleep aided by the lulling sound of rain.

    Would this be better? The rhythmic sound of rain on the roof was like someone who called himself a drummer because he could play the same note. Thomas listened to the lulling sound, feeling the sound trying to pull him under. He heard their whispers of comfort swimming through his mind, and he shook his head and sat up straight in his chair. No. Not now.

    Thanks!
     

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