Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Insecure Writer: supercharged descriptions

When I'm insecure or discouraged with my writing, I tend to go on a reading binge. (Truthfully, I can use any excuse to go on a reading binge!) I've read a bunch of great books lately, and they've inpsired me with my own writing, and taught me a few new things too.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
The young blind protagonist of  All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, caught my attention, especially since one of my stories is about a girl who has lost her sight temporarily. It's a tremendous World War II book about two children: a girl in France and a boy in Germany and how at their lives intersected even though separated by enemy lines. I'll be posting more about the book soon, but right now here's three things I learned about writing descriptions:

1)  Even if your protagonist isn't blind, it's a powerful exercise to pretend she/he is just as an exercise. When you are forced to describe everything by sound, scent, touch and taste and can't use sight at all, it actually deepens your descriptions and makes them much stronger. The descriptions in this book were vivid and transporting, like I could almost put my hand through the page and touch the things Marie-Laure touched.

2) A description "flipped" can have a powerful impact. Here's an example of Marie-Laure's father observing German and Allied planes fighting in the sky: a moment of disorientation, he feel's that he's looking not up but down, as though a spotlight has been shined into a wedge of bloodshot water, and the sky has become the sea, and the airplanes are hungry fish, harrying their prey in the dark.

3) Take a natural phenomena and transpose it upon a traumatic event for another powerful description:

The notion occurs to her that the ground beneath Saint-Malo has been knitted together all along by the root structure of an immense tree, located at the center of the city... and the massive tree has been uprooted by the hand of God and the granite is coming with it, heaps and clumps and clods of stones pulling away as the trunk comes up, followed by the fat tendrils of roots...the ramparts crumbling, streets leaking away, block-long mansions falling like toys.


  1. Margo, I used the "flipped" description describing what someone experiences as they travel through a wormhole. This is a very powerful writing tool. Great post!

    Stephen Tremp
    IWSG Co-host

    1. Oh now I want to read your travel through a wormhole description. I have a wormhole in one of my stories too and I chose an unusual way to describe it - as if being part of painting.

  2. I've had this book on hold for a long time, so I hope I can read it soon. Just from your quotes, I can tell I'm going to love it. These are great tips. I especially liked the flipped example as it's something I'd never thought of. I, too, go on reading binges when I'm stuck--it's good for the soul. :)

    1. Definitely read it!!! I plan to re-read parts to really soak up the amazing writing and characters.

  3. I like #1.That would be a great exercise. Really forces you to use the other senses. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  4. These are nice examples you have shared. Since I'm working on a food novel, I agree that there's more to describing something than with merely how it looks.

  5. Clever idea to eliminate sight and rely on the other senses. I struggle with scent and taste and that would really help.

  6. Thanks for sharing that flip idea.

  7. This is such great advice, Margo! I'm definitely going to try doing that - putting my characters in a situation where I have to describe things that they sense without using their eyesight. What gorgeous writing that book has!

  8. I can't imagine describing from a blind person's POV. I probably should to improve my own descriptions. Thank you for the idea. Hope your Mother's Day was great!



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