Word Painting – The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively

Word Painting

Word Painting – The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan (an excerpt from Writer’s Digest, January 2015) Here are four secrets to keep in mind as you breathe life into your characters through description.

  1.   Description that relies solely on physical attributes too often turns into what Janet Burroway calls the “all-points bulletin.”

It reads something like this: “My father is a tall, middle-aged man of average build. He has green eyes and brown hair and usually wears khakis and oxford shirts.”

This description is so mundane, it barely qualifies as an “all-points bulletin.” Can you imagine the police searching for this suspect? No identifying marks, no scars or tattoos, nothing to distinguish him. He appears as a cardboard cutout rather than as a living, breathing character. Yes, the details are accurate, but they don’t call forth vivid images. We can barely make out this character’s form; how can we be expected to remember him?

When we describe a character, factual information alone is not sufficient, no matter how accurate it might be. The details must appeal to our senses. Phrases that merely label (like tall, middle-aged, and average) bring no clear image to our minds. Since most people form their first impression of someone through visual clues, it makes sense to describe our characters using visual images. Green eyes is a beginning, but it doesn’t go far enough. Are they pale green or dark green? Even a simple adjective can strengthen a detail. If the adjective also suggests a metaphor—forest green, pea green, or emerald green—the reader not only begins to make associations (positive or negative) but also visualizes in her mind’s eye the vehicle of the metaphor—forest trees, peas, or glittering gems.

  1. The problem with intensifying an image only by adjectives is that adjectives encourage cliché.

It’s hard to think of adjective descriptors that haven’t been overused: bulging or ropy muscles, clean-cut good looks, frizzy hair. If you use an adjective to describe a physical attribute, make sure that the phrase is not only accurate and sensory but also fresh. In her short story “Flowering Judas,” Katherine Anne Porter describes Braggioni’s singing voice as a “furry, mournful voice” that takes the high notes “in a prolonged painful squeal.” Often the easiest way to avoid an adjective-based cliché is to free the phrase entirely from its adjective modifier. For example, rather than describing her eyes merely as “hazel,” Emily Dickinson remarked that they were “the color of the sherry the guests leave in the glasses.”

  1. Strengthen physical descriptions by making details more specific.

In my earlier “all-points bulletin” example, the description of the father’s hair might be improved with a detail such as “a military buzz-cut, prickly to the touch” or “the aging hippie’s last chance—a long ponytail striated with gray.” Either of these descriptions would paint a stronger picture than the bland phrase brown hair. In the same way, his oxford shirt could become “a white oxford button-down that he’d steam-pleated just minutes before” or “the same style of baby blue oxford he’d worn since prep school, rolled carelessly at the elbows.” These descriptions not only bring forth images, they also suggest the background and the personality of the father.

  1. Select physical details carefully, choosing only those that create the strongest, most revealing impression.

One well-chosen physical trait, item of clothing, or idiosyncratic mannerism can reveal character more effectively than a dozen random images. This applies to characters in nonfiction as well as fiction. When I write about my grandmother, I usually focus on her strong, jutting chin—not only because it was her most dominant feature but also because it suggests her stubbornness and determination. When I write about Uncle Leland, I describe the wandering eye that gave him a perpetually distracted look, as if only his body was present. His spirit, it seemed, had already left on some journey he’d glimpsed peripherally, a place the rest of us were unable to see. As you describe real-life characters, zero in on distinguishing characteristics that reveal personality: gnarled, arthritic hands always busy at some task; a habit of covering her mouth each time a giggle rises up; a lopsided swagger as he makes his way to the horse barn; the scent of coconut suntan oil, cigarettes, and leather each time she sashays past your chair.

THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF WRITERS AND AUTHORS IN SOCIETY

I believe our global world is teetering on a precipice or an abyss. However  we wish to view our global situation, because there are too many dictators that have now gained power. The supposed purpose of our American Democratic Republic was, and hopefully will be again someday, for religious freedom and economic prosperity. Democracy, however, is losing.
      Therefore, in my opinion, writers can and should share their views. America’s policies are everyone’s business, because our lives, how we live our lives, are dependent upon on our written and verbal voices. Writers have a voice—an audience, a vibrant and often collective voice. Fiction, especially, is a vehicle to express societal needs and wants for a better life. Consider A Tale of Two Cities, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Scarlet Letter, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Roots, and so many others. All of these written works represent writers speaking out about the horrors of tyranny placed on people of poverty, of color, of sex, and of faith.
     Furthermore, all of the above classic fictionalized literature, speaks to the appalling human conditions forced onto society by tyranny, greed, hate groups, ignorance, and loathe. The cruelty of mankind is a poison without a cure…unless humankind speaks loudly, writes loudly about injustice, poverty, bullying, hate, fear, racism, greed, and tyranny.
     For instance, religion is a set of beliefs based on faith, a policy of doctrine, and religion has changed lives, for better or worse, consider: The Malleus Maleficarum, The Salem Witch Trials, The Trail of Tears, The Holocaust, Roots, and so many other travesties and horrors, based on some tyranny or tyrannical religion precepts, basically humans being inhuman. I say this, because some forms of religion do not wholly, truly represent the founding of beliefs that a prophet gave to people of a certain time in history.
     All religions are faith and politically based beliefs—by speakers, writers, authors, and preachers. Our lives are based on faith. Faith is what we believe to be a given right: freedom to pray, to think, to express our beliefs, and nothing is more political than the faith of our choice. It is our right to believe in a higher power or not to believe, and we all believe differently.
     Our collective belief in a democratic republic is policy-based, and we came to believe in a democratic republic as written by authors, who expressed their views, their faith in the ability to tell us stories, stories that are based on democracy or tyranny. We, as writers and authors, are at another dangerous point in our humanity.
     We should and can choose to write short stories, novels, and commentaries that support our democratic republic; if not, we will fail miserably to defend our right to write stories. Without this right, we may see our written work burned in the fire of a tyrannical and often insane dictator.
As it is today, so many great written works are on the banned books list and are not allowed in libraries. Who knows? Your religion could be next or any and all religious doctrine based in faith, could be banned and our fiction writing banned as well.
     Whether tyranny is religious or theoretical, what we believe collectively becomes the law of the land. The voices of our written work: our novels, our commentaries, our short stories, our speeches, all are critically important to our way of life, our democracy.
Our lives depend on the written word that will reflect our collective voice for freedom of thought, of choice, of faith in our union as Americans. What we allow to endure, without our voices, will be our fall from grace.

THURSDAY PHOTO PROMPT: SPAN #WRITEPHOTO

The Promise

I walked alone through a forest of maples, birches, oaks, and pines, happy to listen to birds chirping, as they called to one another hoping for a mate. I marveled at the beauty of this spring day. Beneath my feet I felt the soft spongy layers of leaves becoming one with the earth. It was this fresh feeling of renewal after a long cold winter that was so invigorating, and it lifted my spirits, ferreting away my winter doldrums.

I was so deep in thought that I walked without seeing where I was going. I just blindly put one foot in front of the another. I don’t remember how long I was walking or where I was going when I came across an enchanting burn, that flowed with such energy. The waters were crystal clear, flowing from the melting snow drifts of winter, and mixed with spring water from deep within the earth.

Above the burn was a span, an ancient walkway, now covered with many years of moss and grass. I marveled at the construction of the span, and its ability to survive for how long I didn’t know, but perhaps a few hundred years or more. I imagined how life must have been so long ago. How many young lovers must have made promises to each other as they gazed into the waters, promises that wouldn’t or couldn’t be kept. No different than the raging burn as it too would soon cease to keep its passion.

I let my eyes wander, once more, as I stood at the edge of the rapid flow of the burn. The sound it made was eerie yet enticing as it raged through the burn. Life is so similar, I mused, its passion rages only to burnout more quickly than one would think. Yet, like the winter that has come and gone, the spring of life continues to renew all hope, love, care, and we, like springtime, will once again be filled with the passion to live our best lives.

 

 

A Very Special Book Review: My Vibrating Vertebrae: And Other Poems by Agnes Mae Graham

 

Agnes Mae Graham’s beautiful collection of rhyming poems, My Vibrating Vertebrae, is stunning. Like a brilliant jewel, her poems will take your breath away. Moments ago, I read the last poem, and I couldn’t wait to review this book of poetry, that did take my breath away. Agnes Mae Graham’s brilliant book of poetry gave me a sense of awe, incredulity, of the beauty, wit, charm, love, grace, and sorrow, with tears of joy too.

Agnes Mae Graham brings all of this beauty to each page of rhyme and rhythm with perfect beats that flow like cadence, lilt, and is music to one’s ear; it sets the stage for deeply felt and lived emotions that bring forth memories of a time lost to all, but those who lived it.

I laughed, I giggled, I felt joy and pain as her memories brought back memories of my own; of my father and mother who experienced similar moments in their lives as well, but the stories they once told are now gone forever. It was with great joy that I can now recall them through Agnes Mae Graham’s heartfelt poetry.

Each poem she writes is unique to a place and a time. Three of her poems are especially poignant for me, The Antrim Coast Road, Journey in an Aeroplane, and Panic, yet every poem will touch you deeply and bring you to that place and time.

It is fair to say, that this beautiful, heartfelt collection will be with me always. I give this book of poetry a 5 star review.

Agnes Mae Graham

we had wings

This is an exceptional philosophical poem that is unique and bold. It gives a different view of the story of Eve, and gives it wings, blessings, and joy. Thank you Holly for a beautiful view of a time when we had wings.

BOOK REVIEW: CATLING’S BANE

Catling’s Bane, Book 1 of the Rose Shield series, offers the reader an amazing journey into a world so believable that the characters seem to come alive on the page. This beautifully written science-fiction pulled me into a world that glitters with luminosity. The author reveals this world with descriptions so vivid, so rich in detail, that we forget completely, that it is a fictional world.

It is a civilization very different than our own, yet still, very much the same, with problems of great poverty, injustice, and cruelty, with one exception. There are strange powers of influence, powers that control someone’s intent, beliefs, and thoughts. The poor live their lives in a caste system, while the wealthy and powerful live like royalty, and all others live by hook or by crook.

Yet, even for the wealthy, life becomes a perilous journey, because every word, ever thought, may not be their own.  There are those, however, within this system, who have courageous hearts, make great sacrifices, and if they can escape the Influencers, they may have the opportunity to change their world where everyone can speak their own thoughts and live their lives as they choose to be.

I was completely captured within this incredible world, created by the author, D. Wallace Peach. 5 stars

A Witch’s Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://scvincent.com/writephoto-photo-prompt/thesign

A Witch’s Sign

Ye are welcome here,

All Ye Witches, Wizards, and Sorcerers,

Yet, leave ye magical spells at our door,

Here we serve only frogs, spiders, and toads,

On our table of incantations and spooks.

Once ye pass our door, beware,

For ye might be mistaken for lunch or dinner,

Should ye look too tasty to our clientele,

Of Ogres and Dragons abiding here,

Ye thus enter at ye own risk,

Yet ye shall find a plenty, fun to be had,

Though ye may stay forever.

 

 

A Book Review: Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story

“Entertaining humans for cheese is a bit daft really, but cheese is cheese!” Wise words from Sam: a smart, talented, handsome, and very entertaining Collie, who, in my opinion, is the spitting image of Lassie.

Author, Sally Cronin writes through the eyes of her beloved Collie, Sam. It is a poignant, funny, and oh so entertaining story about life with Sam.

Sam tells us about his life and what it is like growing up dog. I couldn’t help but fall head over heels in love with Sam! And so will you! 

Sam is very literate, he did narrate this book, after all. Sam’s memoir: Sam: A Shaggy Dog Story, is a truly incredible life story of his life as a Collie. He narrates poignantly about his first memories of being a puppy, his incredible curiosity of the world around him, as well as his travels, mishaps, and friendships, and about his great of love of cheese and sausages.

Yet, most important in his life is his great love for Sally and David, his adopted family. Sam also had a fan club of sorts; he was friendly with cats, such as Henry, an Irish feral ginger and white cat, a Spanish marmalade cat, named Mollie, and let me not forget his very favorite toy, when he was a mere tadpole, a stuffed toy lamb, named Larry.

Sam, the intellectual that he was, studied human behavior extensively. He learned to speak Cat, English, and even a little Spanish. Sam was also quite good at humming a tune or two with Sally and David, on many of their family travels. Quite an accomplishment!  However, there was a certain rationale behind his thinking…cheese and sausages. If he could entertain Sally and David’s friends, by speaking English, he would be given more cheese by their guests. One could say that Sam was an accomplished entrepreneur!

As a reader of Sam’s story I laughed, I sometimes cried, and I fell totally in love with Sam, who was loved, beyond measure, by Sally and David, his adoptive parents. This is a wonderful memoir that will make you smile, laugh, and even shed a tear, but mostly you will feel a sense of great joy for a life well lived. 5 Stars.

 

Twas The Night Before Christmas….

A reblog from last Christmas! I will be away for Christmas and these are my favorites to share! Merry Christmas to one and all!

This is the time of year where children’s books take center stage and all around us we see magical stories, Fairies, stardust, Reindeer prancing, Elf’s in fancy hats, jingles bells everywhere and snow falling. Yuletide Christmas Trees are brightly decorated with lights that sparkle, twinkle, and seem to light up the world with their glow.  While dear St. Nick travels afar, just to bring gifts to one and all.  It is a time when we can believe that there is more to the world than we can imagine and the gift of children helps us to believe in a world more wonderful than we know, and that anything is possible, if we just believe it is so. 

THE SNOW FAIRIES GIFT

Whilst we sleep, and the snow falls deep,

Snow fairies alight, to watch through the night,

As boughs of ice and snow, fall heavy, upon our roofs.

With a twinkle in their eyes, and a snap of their fingers,

They light a fire aglow, blazing in our hearths.

Thus, do they keep us warm and snug in our beds,

Whilst wintry winds do blow.

They watch with grave intent, to keep us safe,

And stay the goblins away, one and all, at bay,

Less the bale of wolves, upon our doorsteps,

Howl through the night, to cause us fright.

When all is safe, they hence take flight,

On gossamer wings, they glitter and glow,

And sprinkle fairy dust, as they go,

Upon the newly fallen snow.

And in the morn, whence we wake,

Our baskets, do we find, brimming, with berries,

Hidden well and safely kept, as wide-eyed babes,

Giggle with delight, in the wonder of fairies,

That cometh in the night, leaving magical treats,

Beneath, their Merry Christmas, Yuletide Tree.

By K. D. Dowdall

Copyright 2017