Thursday, June 2, 2011

Descriptive Overdrive

There are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to describe a given object.

Take for example, this picture of a brick. How would you describe it?
Here's a sample description list for this particular object.

Heavy, red, pitted, rectangular, cracked, chipped, brown, construction, dense, coarse surface, sturdy, durable, strong.

Great. So there are many ways to describe a brick.

Okay, let's say instead you have a scene which somehow involves a brick wall. Or the building or the destruction of that wall. Now what?

Well, for one, you can tie the descriptions of the wall to a particular chararcter. Let's say you have a construction worker. How would they describe the brick wall? Or, what about a disgruntled youth thinking of grabbing a brick to go break a window? How would they describe the wall? What about someone standing by the ruins of the wall after a fire or natural disaster? The list is really endless, but in this circumstance, you can tie a scene's desciptions to your point-of-view character, and it could dramatically alter how the wall is described.

You can also pick certain descriptions to evoke a particular mood. For example, you could describe a brick wall as being aged, weathered, chipped, faded, and forgotten. You could probably also choose to focus on other elements, such as strong, tough, a necessary wall between neighbors, etc.

In short, the descriptive words you use can have a major impact on how a reader feels about your scenes, your characters, and your story. At the same time, however, you have to be careful not to go into "thesaurus overdrive" and plug in every interesting sounding word you can find as alternatives to more mundane words such as "red" or "crumbling".

If you get too creative, however, the descriptions end up drawing full attention to themselves and you run the risk of throwing the reader out of the story. If someone is constantly looking words up or trying to visualize what a dilapidated, crimson, hodgepodge barricade looks like, you may end up losing your reader before they even turn the page.

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