Saturday, September 17, 2011

Taking a Fresh Look at Descriptions


Do you ever get stuck on descriptions and feel they're trite and predictable? I certainly do. My first draft always has too many tired adjectives. Here's one idea for finding a fresh way to describe things. Sit down somewhere and pick an object. Look at it and write down the first word or words that come to mind, no matter what they are. It could be a phrase like "Oh My God," which could work. An oh-my-god pink dress. If "bright" was the word, you can probably do better. Instead of thinking about the object, try focusing on the descriptive word you first thought of. What's bright? Blinding? Eye-searing? If it was hot, change your focus to the word "hot." What are other words that suggest heat? Scorching? Blistering? See if any of the new words would fit the original object.

Close your eyes and focus on the object. Picture details. If it's a car, instead of thinking "red Miata," consider its life. Is it cared for, lived in, neglected? Is it a feminine object or would you call it masculine? The car could be kiss-me red, or if it attracts attention, it might draw someone's attention like a matador's cape drew a bull. Then you wouldn't even need the word "red."

If the object is important to your story, you'd naturally spend more time on it. If it's a passing reference and the reader doesn't need to remember it, maybe it doesn't need a description.

Do you have any tricks for coming up with new ways to avoid the overworked words that come so easily? Please share! We could all use help.


Maryn Sinclair said...

Now I'll have to go over my WIP for better adjectives. Thanks a lot, Ellis. :-) Great post, as usual.

Ellis Vidler said...

Mine too. Every time I write one of these, it gives me something else to look for. :-) Thanks, Maryn.

P. A. Deuson said...


What struck a chord for me was 'if the reader doesn't need to remember it' - not only will this eliminate clutter but let the necessary description pop a bit more.


Ellis Vidler said...

Pat, you're right. That's a good way to tighten up. Another thing to watch for.
Hey, I was glad to see Superior Longing is out! What a joy. I'm thrilled for you.

Joyce Lavene said...

Love your blog, Ellis! I liked the bit about describing the car in a story. Most writers don't think about that.

Nancy Lauzon said...

Here are a couple of tips I've learned over the years: 1) Be very specific about what you're describing, to make it more vivid. In other words, if your character's eating 'beef' for dinner, is it hamburger? Steak? If it's 'steak', what kind is it? Filet mignon? Porterhouse? Sirloin? 2) Take it to the singular if you can. For example, your cowboy hero is studying his crazing herd of cattle. Instead of 'herd of cattle', pick one cow and describe it. Is it a mossy-horned steer? A panicked, wall-eyed cow?

I've found these tricks pretty helpful. Thanks for a great blog!

Donnell said...

Ellis, late again. But this is awesome!