Descriptive Writing

By Jonathan Degler

The beginning of any creative piece of writing is the word choice. There are obviously many other components of descriptive writing, but it all begins with recognizing who your audience is and then using the words that will connect to them personally.

When I first began my writing career, I was convinced that the adjectives and adverbs were the the words that drove the images into people minds and gave the reader a clear picture of the writer’s scene. However, after some training, i found that the adjectives and adverbs i was using to describe were actually just muddling up my writing. The secret is utilizing the nouns and verbs to communicate meaning.

I will give you three examples and you can tell me which sounds the best and gives you a clear image of what is going on.

“The girl walked across the street.”

“The young lively girl walked across the busy street in a way that told us she had just received great news.”

“With a smile spread from ear to ear, a girl ambled across the brightly lit street.”

As you can see, the first sentence is bland. It tells the reader nothing but the most basic information. The second sentence seems alright, but there are too many adjectives that dilute the image the writer is trying to convey. The last sentence give us as readers a clear image that there is a happy girl crossing the road on a nice day. If you read the second and third sentences again, try to imagine the scene in your head. I’m sure all of you would agree that the third sentence gives you a clearer and more vivid mental picture, without bogging down the flow.

When thinking of solid descriptive writing, the first place to look for examples is the writing of David Sedaris. My favorite of his stories is “Six to Eight Black Men.” Throughout the entire piece I get a very clear image of the story of St. Nicholas, the Christmas icon of the Netherlands.

If you would like to improved your descriptive writing, I would begin by reading David Sedaris or other creative nonfiction writers. Then practice your own writing by taking completely bland and normal sentences, then transforming them in descriptions. For example, begin with the sentence, “I ran to the house.” Practice replacing the verbs and nouns of the sentence with others, like “jolted” or “bungalow.” Of course the words need to be appropriate for the information that you are trying to convey. So if you are thinking of a cottage in the woods, you wouldn’t use the term “bungalow” for a house on the beach.

Avoid the “Be” verbs as much as possible. Not that these are bad verbs, I use them a lot, but when you are trying to write descriptively you will find that the replacement verbs turn out to give readers more vivid images of your scenes, characters, and tones.

So as always, your charge is to write. Your objective should be to write as much and as often as possible. For the first draft, do not worry yourself so much. Your real work begins in the revision. Look for nouns and verbs that fail to give you real images, and particularly avoid the “Be” words. These quick, simple practices will get any writer of any skill level off their butt and on the page.

Good Luck!

Jonathan Degler is the author of the novel “Gone Astray,” and more information can be found at http://www.jonathandeglerbooks.com

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