In the third of my series on creative writing exercises, I present another of Jennifer Jensen’s articles — this one on perfecting our descriptive abilities.
Creative Writing Exercise #1
- She suggests first writing a description of every tiny detail of a walk around the block. Use abundant adjectives, over-doing the descriptions. The sky isn’t just blue, it’s a glorious cerulean blue. The trees and grass aren’t just green, their verdant hues are lush, in variegated shades from emerald to puce to chartreuse to avocado.
- Write another description leaving out all descriptive modifiers. You want stark or bland prose here. You didn’t pass a bright blue door, you passed a door. You didn’t notice a rambling home built in the Craftsman mode, you noticed a house.
- Write a third version in a balanced description with what she calls a “comfortable number of adjectives.” (self-explanatory)
Creative Writing Exercise #2
- Take your balanced description and find stronger nouns that will allow you to omit adjectives. Exchange blue luxury car for blue Lexus.
- Use shorter descriptive phrases and be as specific as possible. Here’s her example:
How about changing “the wall was covered with spray-painted words” to “grafitti-covered wall.” Or make it more specific in its own sentence, such as “High schoolers had sprayed ’Cougars Rock’ and ‘Class of 2010’ in red across the brick.”
Creative Writing Exercise #3
- Let a character experience the walk through her/his own eyes. Add emotional reactions to what each detail evokes. You’ll need to keep in mind who the character is and make certain that his/her reactions are in line with who s/he is
- Choose only the details that would be important to your character and eliminate the rest. If your character is a big, tough, can’t-be-bothered-with-niceties boor, then those fluffy cloud animals in the cerulean sky will not be on his radar, so leave them out. He might notice the doggie doo-doo (and call it something nasty) that he just stepped in, however. Of course, not too many authors like writing from the viewpoint of a big, tough boor, but you probably get the idea.
- Custom-tailor the details to your character. This requires seeing out of your character’s eyes. Imagine that you are holding a video camera up to your eye. Only what the camera sees is what you can write about. Your character’s eyes are the camera. What does s/he see and how does s/he react?
- Edit details to fit your theme or to resonate within the story. Jennifer gives this example:
“At a conference, Jessica Page Morrell encouraged writers to look for details that resonate. She gave the example of a ginkgo tree, whose yellow autumn leaves fall very suddenly, all within a few days. This sort of description can echo a failing relationship, for example.”