Words and the way gifted writers use them have always fascinated me. An author who crafts a paragraph that makes my mouth salivate, my nostrils flare, and my eardrums thump is usually as expert as real images that I can see. When I read such poetry, I can hardly sit still until I throw down the book, run to my computer, and start hacking away at my keyboard, hoping to create something as magical.
Thus my first suggestion in learning the art of descriptive writing is to READ. I can’t say enough about perusing the works of other authors who have mastered the written word. They will show us, not tell us, how to create fresh sentences and inspire our descriptive juices to flow. I love this opening from Geraldine Brooks’ book, Year of Wonders: “I used to love this season. The wood stacked by the door, the tang of its sap still speaking of forest. The hay made, all golden in the low afternoon light. The rumble of the apples tumbling into the cellar bins.” Equally captivating is this passage from Delia Owens Where the Crawdad's Sing: “The morning burned so August-hot, the marshes moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog.” How do authors like Owens and Brooks construct sentences that invite us to live on their pages? I imagine instinct, or a sixth sense, plays a part in hoisting them to the top of the bestsellers lists. But in attaining any worthy goal, the steps are the same. We must want the reward enough to learn and practice what it takes to acquire the end result. Likewise, if we yearn to write sensational passages and then learn and practice several established guidelines, we, too, can produce masterpieces fit for any New York publisher. The following suggestions will help us meet our goals:
1. Include plenty of sensory language to enhance or define the main theme. --August-hot, the marshes moist breath, hung the oaks and pines with fog 2. Use details which go beyond the ordinary. --the tang of its sap still speaking of forest 3. Use words that enable the reader to see what the writer is describing. --The hay made, all golden in the low afternoon light. 4. Use figurative language such as simile, hyperbole, metaphor, symbolism and personification. --Her hand had shriveled like a dry leaf; I could eat a million of these; Ben is a snake; 5. Use active verbs and precise modifiers. --soldiers paraded; tramped down the hillock; the shack squatted; rumble of the apples tumbling into the cellar bins; the peas still singing in the pot 6. Organize your details-- Some ways to organize descriptive writing include: time, location, and order of importance. When describing a person, you might begin with what they look like, followed by how that person thinks, feels and acts. For our writing’s sake, applying descriptive methods to paint word imagery across the pages of all our essays, articles, short stories, and novels is vital to our success as a writer. The knack may or may not come naturally to us, but if we will daily practice turning our mundane sentences into vivid, lively passages and master the above proven techniques, our work will breathe life into those who read it.