Posts Tagged ‘description’

If you use a lot of description you run the danger of either putting people to sleep if you’re a speaker or having them skip a few paragraphs if you’re writer.

If you feel you can’t do without a goodly dose of description then write it in your first draft, then edit it with a firm hand, till you are left with a terse and vivid minimum.

One way to brighten any description that makes it into your later drafts is to use similes and metaphors.

Briefly, metaphors show how two things – often quite dissimilar things – are similar. “John was a hog”, “Mary was a princess”. They quite firmly state that something or someone is something else.

Similes are gentler. They often include the words ‘like’ or ‘as…as’. “John ate like a hog”, “Mary was as demanding as a princess”.

The trick to keeping people interested in your story is to keep your metaphors and similes unusual, unexpected and, with luck, even humorous.

So, let’s suppose I’m putting together a story about my grandmother and the point I want to make is that she walked very slowly. I could just say “She walked very slowly.’ How interesting is that? Press the snooze button.

I could go with something well known: ‘She was as slow as a tortoise’. That’s not going to brighten the day for many people.

I had a friend once who described someone who walked slowly as ‘Slower than a crab going to Ireland.’ A phrase like that will get attention. Now the audience will point their ears forward, and the readers will stop skimming.

It could just as easily have0 been ‘AS slow AS a crab going to Ireland.’ but the element of comparison is stronger with the use of an ‘er’ word.

Old timers sometimes said ‘Slower than molasses in January’ but that has limited meaning these days and it has been used often. Find yourself an original phrase if you can, and one with relevance to your audience.

Another way to do it is ‘She was so slow that… Use your imagination. What is slow? A caterpillar? The hour hand of Big Ben? Keep going until you have a word that works for you and will be evocative for your audience or readers.

Beware of causing offence with your simile. We used to say ‘Slower than the Second Coming’ but I wouldn’t use that in public.

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Establishing character

Pull your listener or reader in with a quick, one-sentence description of the main character. A brief thumbnail sketch will do the job for you. Try for a sentence that packs a one, two, three punch. Think of three relevant characteristics, if possible with the third being very unlike the first two.

“He was a quiet, thoughtful man with a wicked sense of humour.”

“She was a cook in a logging camp who slept every night with five cats on her bed.”

“He was a six-figure lawyer in a $1000 suit who drove a 1990 K car.”

Choose from:

– physical or mental characteristics

– occupation, paid or hobby

– foibles or habits

– likes and dislikes

– accomplishments

– something he owned or which belonged to him of which he was proud.

This gives readers the flavour of the person quickly and doesn’t get them bored with a long description before the story gets off the ground. You can flesh out the description later if you need to.

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