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Creative Writing The Art Of Description

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1 Creative Writing The Art Of Description on Thu Jan 31, 2013 6:47 pm


If you’ve ever read Charles Dickens, then you know what great description is. His unique abilityto bring color, smell, taste, sound and livelihood into his novels is refreshing, to say the least. When you read most modern novels – other than those by Dean Koontz – you won’t find any of the remarkable description that makes a novel come alive. The problem is that most novice writers focus more on the action than on the description. Using that philosophy, you have several characters doing a variety of things, but you can’t picture any of those actions in your mind. Withoutdescription, you can’t relate what is happening in the novel to what could actually happen in real life. For example, let’s take Dickens’s description of the convict in the first chapter of Great Expectations: “…a man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, andtorn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared, and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.” He could just as easily have said: “The convict, whose clothes were dirty and whose skin was cracked and bleeding in places, limped over to me and stared down at me with a growl, seizing me by the chin.” Although that is an adequate description of the convict, it doesn’t lend the same texture as the one that Dickens himself used in Great Expectations. When you are writing your novel, focus on each and every scene as though you are living it. Imagine it in your mind as you want your readers to see it, and grasp tiny details that might otherwise escape you. In fact, you can even fixate on those small details in order to add flavor to your story. For example, I once wrote a suspense novel for a client in which I used the symbolism of a ticking time bomb at least thirty times through the script. Any sound that was rhythmic could be compared to that time bomb, and I used it to create a sense of urgency and to focus the reader on the fact that time was running out for the main character. You should also focus on the descriptions of your characters, even the ones who appear on the street or at the grocery store and are only discussed in passing. Those minor details bring life to the story; we are always noticing in the man on the corner with the limp and the woman at the movie theater with the huge black mole. They make your story realistic in a world where the reader knows that it’s fiction. As a final thought, I want to encourage you to practice description on a regular basis if you hope to be a novelist. Keep a small card file in your desk drawer and when you meet someone interesting,write a description of him or her on a note card. That way, you will always have characters from which to draw to make your stories unique.

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