Keep it Simple. Keep it Real.

When using description, I had to teach myself not to overdo the details. It was a long, hard lesson, but I learned. A few simple, well descriptive words can make all the difference. Here’s an example from one of my short stories.

Her Ma’man murmured of ghost summers when the heat became a living thing that clogged the throat and sat upon the skin like wet spirits. In the deepest part of the season, restless souls crept from the otherworld, drawn by the waves of misery.

“Ghost summer” sets the mood, gives you an idea about the kind of story you’re reading. “Clogged the throat and sat upon the skin” makes the heat real and anyone who has lived in the south knows that heat isn’t just there, it lives, exists to make your life miserable. Don’t just say it’s hot, make us feel it.
When trying to make a person real, you can use blonde, six-foot three, green eyes. Yeah, okay, but only if you’re giving a police report. Do you want to write the kind of book that sits on a night stand as a ready sleep injection?

So, let’s try again.

Frank stood six foot-three. He had hair the color of the sun and eyes like wet moss.

Maybe a tiny bit better, but so cliched you’re going to gag any editor who reads it. I kind of like wet moss, but what’s missing?

Emotion. If you aren’t feeling something you might as well be reading an insurance contract.

Take it from me, Frank doesn’t want to be the guy who puts you to sleep. Maybe, just maybe, he wants to be the guy who causes you to flip on the night light.

Let’s try it with some emotion and a little setting this time.

They kept the psych drugs in the top of the tall, locked cabinet. Frank didn’t need a key , nor did he have to stretch to pluck them right off the shelf. He’d colored his hair yellow to match the doctor’s, but it hadn’t been necessary. The staff never looked twice, so caught up in their own pointless lives, Bundy himself could have walked past and they wouldn’t notice. Granted, with the power out, they had their hands full.

It had been a genius move, he had to admit. One his father might have pulled. Frank caught his reflection in the mirror behind the doctor’s desk. His gut twisted before he remembered that it wasn’t his father’s dead, green eyes that stared back at him.

Wanna try it yourself? Share if you’d like.

Today, I’m listening to OK Computer by Radiohead. I’m not alone in my sincere love for this band, so there are too many links to list. I’ll give you the official link page and you can expolore on your own.
w.a.s.t.e. Merchandise Links Page

8 Comments

  1. Thanks! Were you at the retreat when we did the metaphor workshop? I may have to do a post on that one to share. And guess what? I got a call this morning to do that character tag workshop in February. Guess I should put together some more. It’s been so long since I did any. Need to get back into that hang of it.

    Thanks for visiting my blog, Jill! It’s good to hear from you.

  2. I love the passage from Ghost Summer – really nice writing, very evocative.

    Description is one of my all time favorite things but I think I’ve managed to find a good balance.

    Love the post. I’ll be back.

  3. It’s the lady who had me rolling earlier today with the self destructing comment on Jill’s blog!

    The ghost summer quote comes from a short story called, Ti Bon Ange. The Ti Bon Ange is the small part of the soul that leaves to allow spirits to enter during vodoun ceremonies. In my story, it leaves a bit early. (grin)

    Welcome!

  4. Absolutely fabulous – great examples, too. When I ask my students to be descriptive but not overdo it, I still get lines like my all time favorite:

    “they cradle the fragile egg of life in their hands, protecting it from the black hand of the banshee of death.”

    sigh….At least he tried.

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