Sunday, April 15, 2012

How I Write: Description and ROW80 Update

The Senses

The Five Senses

Everyone knows the five common senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. You want the reader to see, smell, taste, feel, and hear what your character does.

Another Two

There are also "senses" that are not physical or neurologically based, but more like perceptions. The two I like to use are time and space. When trying to convey one of these senses, you have to incorporate one (or more) of the main five. Usually, it will be sight. The position of the sun in the sky can give your reader a sense of time. But sound is helpful in showing a sense of space, such an echo in a large room. 

Which Words??

Ask Questions

There are so many words available to get the world you are writing about across to the reader. To figure out which ones paint the clearest picture of your scene, ask yourself some questions about the experience you are trying to give your reader.

Is it good or bad? Lots of words have connotations that help convey a feeling with your description. Be sure to use adjectives that mesh with the overall idea you are going for. If you are trying to show the reader an upper class woman in a good way, for example, you might use words like slender, elegant, and exquisite. You wouldn't want to use words like skinny, snobby, or hoity-toity, since these words give a negative feeling. 

Is it strong or weak? With a weak scent, you might say, "A slight trace of roses lingered in the air." For a strong odor, you might say, "The repugnant stink invaded my nostrils, instantaneously invoking my gag reflex."

What does it remind you of? What is something common that you can compare it to? If you are working in science fiction or fantasy, the thing you are describing may be unlike anything your reader has ever experienced. In this case, try comparing it to something common that your reader will be familiar with, then tell how it's different. Speaking of different...

How is it different than other things like it? When describing something common, like a chair, don't tell us what we already know. Don't say: it has four legs, a back to lean on and a seat for your rump. Everybody already knows what a "chair" looks like. Tell us what's different or unique about this particular chair. Maybe the back was carved from a dark, shiny wood to resemble vines climbing a trellis, or the seat is upholstered in the softest grey fabric you've ever had the privilege of running your fingertips across. 


Personally, I like to use alliteration in my descriptions. I feel a repetition of consonant sounds makes the words flow off the tongue and leaves the reader with a lasting impression. This is especially true when describing sounds: A cacophony of crashes called me into the kitchen. Okay, that might be pushing the limits a little, but you get the idea. ;)

My Example: The Beach

Here are some examples from the beach. I give one sentence for each of the seven "senses" I listed previously. See if you can tell which sense I had in mind when I wrote each sentence. 

The robin's egg blue sky stretched forever, meeting the navy blue ocean at the edge of infinity.
The gritty sand rubbed the skin between my toes raw.
The waves crescendoed, culminating in crashes interspersed with the calls of the seagulls.
Exquisite, lime-tinged Corona slid down my throat, leaving a bittersweet residue on my tongue.
The air swirled around me, bringing with it a heavenly mixture of salt and coconut tanning oil.
The toddler's neon pink bikini was in clear contrast to her pale, ivory skin and butter-colored curls.
The pink dawn and orange twilight were the perfect bookends to a beautiful day.

For practice, make up a sentence of your own for each sense and post it in the comments below. I'd love to see what all of you creative writers come up with. How do you write description? Any great ideas that I missed? Let me know!! I appreciate any and all feedback. Even if you think this sucks, as long as you tell me why you think it sucks. I can't wait to hear from you guys. Interaction is what this life is all about.

Also: ROW80 Update #4 April 15th 

You can see my goals here.
Writing: 233 on my "Tanka" post Friday, and wrote on this a little more before posting.
Reading: One down, three to go!
Editing: Still only at 6 pages overall. Gotta work on this! Seriously.
Blogging: This post, with update!! Plus my "Tanka" post on Friday. ;-)


KM Huber said...

Thanks for reminding writers what we sometimes forget: write the world around us.
Hope you have a great week.

Rebecca Barray said...

Thanks Karen! I'm going to edit this week if it kills me!! So it WILL be a great week! LOL! Think positive!!

Juliana Haygert said...

Great advice, Becca!
I've known that writing about the five senses is super important forever, but I manage to forget them too often when I'm writing ... thanks for reminding me ;)
Have a great week!

Rebecca Barray said...

Thanks Juliana! Hope your week is great, too! Positive thinking goes a long way. I WILL have a great week working on my goals!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post, Becca! I often rely too much one the biggie: sight. I describe how things look and sometimes forget to bring a scene alive with all of the other wonderful senses.

The Beach example was great. I think I'm inspired to go back over my MS and see if I'm really using all the senses as well as I could.

Nice connecting with you through the #MNINB challenge!


Rebecca Barray said...

Thanks, Erin! So glad you enjoyed it and were inspired!

This #MNINB challenge has been great for meeting new writer friends and learning all about "platform". I've had tons of fun with it.

Happy writing (and platform building)!!


Kris Swanguarin said...

Great blog, Becca. Besides assembling some of my poems into a first book, I have a 100,000-word manuscript that needs surgery once I get my poetry projects complete.
I'm glad you took the MNINB challenge.

Mysti said...

Hey, I recognize that lesson! Description is challenging. I tend to not worry about it TOO much in early drafts, since I mainly want to focus on getting the plot to make sense. Polishing up description can come later, when you have a solid story. I like to look for weak verbs and adjectives and see if I can use a stronger one. Still, one doesn't want to go overboard. One or two adjectives should be enough to describe something most of the time. And try to avoid using too many obscure words. When readers have to turn to a dictionary every other page, it feels too much like work :) Here are a few sentences from Serenya's Song. I bet you can guess each sense:

I studied her white skin, pale as the ivory piano keys she commanded so well.

The spicy aroma of fresh ginger met my nose as I sipped and listened.

The points of my fingernails clicked softly on the keys as I warmed up the stiffness of new ivory.

Smooth skin, slender, strong muscles--heaven under my fingers.

Iron-tinged blood and the first hints of rendered juices danced a waltz on my tongue.

The moon played peek-a-boo with the clouds overhead.

I drew my sword and waited, too.

Rebecca Barray said...

Thanks, Kris! Good luck with the surgery. ;) I LOVE the MNINB challenge. I'm getting so much done improving my platform!

Hello, Mysti! Glad you made it! ;) I agree that description is more of a editing addition. Stronger verbs are always something to look for, like, for instance, instead of "danced a waltz" you could just say "waltzed". Lol. ;) You are such a great writer and I loved "A Ranger's Tale". I really want to write a review for it, but I'm finding it a lot harder to review than I thought it would be. Ugh! I promise I'll get to it, I just don't know how long it will take. :) Keep up the great work!! Can't wait to read "Serenya's Song"!!

Mysti said...

True, waltzed would be simpler, but I rather liked the rhythm of "danced a waltz". Just another layer of descriptive goodness--adding rhythm to the words.

Reviewing is tough, both tech and time wise, but the more you do it, the better you get. No worries on my end. I'm in no hurry. ;)