for writers and readers….
EVERY SATURDAY for the month of January I’m going to share some exercises from my popular writing guide Back To Creative Writing School – I want it to be a creative kickstart for the new year and a celebration that 2020 is finally over. I hope you find it useful.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Good description is never just description – David Lodge
If you look around where you are right now, reading these words, you can see a thousand things you could describe from the colour of the floor covering to the dust motes dancing in the air above your head. Shut your eyes. You can probably hear 20 sounds. Perhaps a motorcycle is revving outside and further away a young child is crying. Perhaps your chair creaks when you shift position. Can you smell anything?
If you tried to tell all of this to a reader the description would be the size of a novella (that’s about 20,000 to 50,000 words ) and it would also be deeply, deeply boring.
You need to be selective and tell the reader only what they need to know. Remember that you are the reader’s eyes and ears, you are their skin, their nostrils, their mouth. The few details you reveal have to have significance. And so do the words you use.
Write a short description of where you are right now – it doesn’t matter if it is a park bench or your kitchen – and do it in two distinct ways because you’re not just creating a word picture of the physical space, you’re also evoking a very specific atmosphere .
Write in the first person for both passages: I said, I walked etc.
The details you select are important and so too are the words you use. The grimy windows in the first description could be misty with dust in the second.
Write between 200 to 250 words for each descriptive passage. Do a word count and cut back if you’ve gone over. You don’t want to overload the reader with a flood of images.
1) Describe where you are as if the ‘I’ character is revisiting a place where they were once held hostage
Don’t mention being imprisoned: describe the prison. No intro – dive in.
Look around. What would be important to someone desperate for a way out but too scared to make an escape attempt? A prisoner must experience many emotions, including extreme tedium. Are there tiny details they would have noticed as they sat and waited while others controlled their lives?
2) Describe the same place as a sanctuary where the ‘I’ character once found shelter
Again, don’t mention why your character needed a sanctuary. Instead concentrate on making the reader feel that this is a safe place. You might choose the same details you used in the first exercise or you might decide that other features would be more important.
Remember you are writing about the same place, but in one it is a prison reeking of bad memories and in the other it is a refuge exuding a sense of safety.