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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One Writer's Mind: Descriptive Writing, Part 2

I promised to get back to descriptive writing, so here I am.

Another principle of descriptive writing is to use strong, active verbs when setting the scene. I am still using my current WIP--not because they are the best examples, but at least they're mine.
"The wind caught her hair and lifted strands across her eyes. She held them away with her hand, not wanting to miss a yard of the seacoast, of rocky hills climbing straight out of the water. "

I particularly like the idea of rocky hills climbing, because of course they don't move at all. Look for unusual verbs that convey the impresson you are trying to create. Yesterday I read a sentence about a midwestern drawl crawling along someone's skin, and I instantly knew this seemingly harmless man was a villain.

As always, use the five senses to convey setting. In this paragraph, my heroine is being drawn to the galley aboard ship.
"A pale pink horizon peeked through the porthole. She listened to the ship. Next to their cabin, Cookie sang as as he worked in the kitchen. She enjoyed waking up to his morning hymns of praise. A familiar yeasty smell reached her through the boards. He had promised a special repast for their last morning aboard, and perhaps he was fixing cinnamon rolls or at the very least fresh bread. A welcome meal. She knew they would not enjoy leavened bread for most of their trip to the west."

The example uses four of her senses. The following example includes the sense of touch as well as sight, hearing, and taste to introduce the ship's cook.
"Zillah remembered how she gawked at the strange, unexpected molasses-hued color of his skin. She had longed to touch the dark curls that sprang from his head like lamb’s wool. The tall stranger had welcomed her curiosity and bent down so she could feel his hair. The tight spirals and bumpy surface tickled her fingers, and she giggled. He spoke English, a kind of English Zillah couldn’t always understand. But the first time the man made cookies for the children, he had spoken in the only language that mattered. A language of the heart. For days afterward she had followed him around the house, calling “Cookie! Cookie!” And so the nickname was born. "

Sight. Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch. Five cornerstones for descriptive writing go a long way toward showing and not telling as well.


Susan Page Davis said...

Great reminder, Darlene. Im my WIP, I'm afraid I've concentrated too much on the action and feelings, not enough on sensory detail.

Grateful Grammy said...

Thank you, Darlene, for this 2nd lesson in descriptive writing. I am saving your instruction and planning to use this advice with my own writing.

Question: What does WIP mean?

Grateful Grammy