Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Breathing Life Into Our Readers

Words and the way gifted writers use them have always fascinated me. This fact had everything to do with choosing the name of my blog. An author who crafts a paragraph that makes my mouth salivate, my nostrils flare and my eardrums thump is usually as expert at conjuring up images that I can almost see and long to touch. 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 James Alexander Thom’s From Sea to Shining Sea:

“Six thousand Continental soldiers paraded down the long side of the sunny, May-green meadow, in perfect step to the beat of drums. From a distance, with their neat ranks and billowing banners, they looked like a perfect army as they tramped down toward the little hillock on which General Washington stood waiting to review them.”

How do authors like Thom 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 descriptive sentences 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.
--Continental soldiers paraded down the long side of the sunny, May-green meadow...

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 was as shriveled as a dry leaf; I could eat a million of these; Ben is a snake;

5. Use active verbs and precise modifiers.
--paraded; tramped; rumble; tumbling; neat ranks and billowing banners

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.


Rebecca Irvine said...

Welcome to the blog world! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I am as entranced by a well-turned phrase as you, and quite impressed by your blog. I'll check back frequently.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your writing and reading comments. The main problem I have is being descriptive. Your thoughts are going to be displayed in my "how to do it right and write" book. No, not a WIP, just instruction for getting my writings interesting enough to read, as yours certainly are.
Barbara B

Theresa Small Sneed said...

Beautifully written and very informative...so very glad you are actively writing again!

Joan Sowards said...

Thanks for a great blog on writing. There's so much to learn.