Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wilson On the Mechanics of Description

N.D. Wilson delves into the mechanics of description. Excerpts:

Do not slip into writing for the mind and the mind alone. In other words, do not play merely upon our ability to reason. And do not focus only on visuals. Write for the whole person. Write for the body. Or try to.

When we say something was vivid, we mean that we felt it. We tasted it, heard it, saw it, smelt (or smelted) it. We have five senses (at least). Access them. Access your readers’ sensual memories (and you know what I don’t mean). Make your characters all the way human and put us all the way in their shoes. Then we can tell if those shoes are hot and moist, too tight, or too loose. We can tell if the ground is rough and hard or sponge-turfy.
Read the whole thing. Only an arrogant man would assume his experience is representative, but I bet there are a few other than me who default to visual mode when time comes to pen a scrap of scenery. Ruminate a bit on the striking parts of your personal history and see if the wisdom of Wilson’s advice doesn’t come through. I think back on the summer I started dating the woman who became my wife, a summer spent studying literature in the U.K. I recall the scent of roses in Queen Mary’s Garden and the sweet tang of cognac-filled chocolates, the rambunctious bleating of sheep in the Lake District and the smoothness of her skin the first time I held her hand. There’s so much more to what happened than simply the sights. Shouldn’t there be more to our writing, too?

(Picture: CC 2007 by


Chestertonian Rambler said...

I think it's often been remarked that the default mode of writing these days is cinematic--writing about sounds and sights, in emulation of the movies and TV shows that for most of us are the prime source of entertainment.

One good exercise (that I've never done) is to write from the perspective of a blind character. It forces all perception to be in the less-commonly-used-in-fiction senses.

Loren Eaton said...

Oooh, that's a really good exercise idea. I'm going to steal it (if that's okay with you).

B. Nagel said...

in the Lake DistrictI burn with jealousy.

Loren Eaton said...

Yeah, but I was sick for at least half of it. "Burn with fever" is more accurate. Hey, maybe I had the sheep flu ...