Monday, August 3, 2009

Descriptive Writing

My friend DJ from Facebook asked for some tips on being a more descriptive writer.

First, read a lot of books from various authors. When you come across a descriptive passage you really like, read it again, study it. Notice what verbs and adjectives they used. Write that passage in a journal or type it. I've written passages from other books, from Stephen King to Dean Koontz, and that helped put me in the mindset of that author. It impacted my writing.

Learn to write poetry. Even if it's bad poetry. It teaches you about the rhythm of language. I spent some time writing a number of poems, some good, some not so good, but I trained my brain to write more descriptively. When you write flowery poetry for awhile and then go back to writing prose, you'll discover your writing has become naturally more descriptive.

Learn a plethora of new vocabulary. Play some vocabulary games. Challenge yourself to use words you don't normally use. I keep a Thesaurus handy, and when I'm revising a draft, I swap out plain words for more descriptive words.

Learn to use figurative language such as hyperbole, simile, metaphor, symbolism and personification. Knowing these gives you a great foundation for descriptive writing. And for the most part it is better to show than tell. Rather than narrate what's happening from the author's point of view, play the scene out from the character's point of view.

And remember that descriptions are also visual details of what's happening in your scene. I'll often write a first draft that doesn't have a lot of description. Just some basic action and dialogue. But then I'll re-read the chapter over and over, visualizing what's happening, and that's when I add more visual details.

I describe in ways that invoke the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. My goal is for the reader to feel like they are in the scene, experiencing it through multiple senses. For instance, in the war scenes in my novel I described what my character Lt. Jack Chambers is seeing--the battlefield, the fog seeping through the war-torn forest, enemy soldiers charging between the trees. Then I added in some sound effects, like gunshots and explosions, soldiers yelling, the metallic crunch of tank tracks rolling over rubble. Then touch: the heat of the blast scorching the soldier's skin. Then taste: his mouth filling with dust and grit. And smell: the stench of death all around him. When you combine descriptions of all five senses, you create a visceral experience for your readers.

Keep challenging yourself to improve your craft and your descriptions will get better over time.

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