The literary market always has a demand for descriptive articles and short stories. A writer’s success in any line of literary work depends largely upon his power of description. It pays to have the skills to describe well, to paint vividly and accurately in words, any scene from memory or imagination. These skills are difficult to acquire, and may require months (or even years) of toilsome practice. But the end is well worthy of the means.
Writers need only to study two elements to create description:
1. The mental picture we have of the scene, event or person.
2. The language we use to convey to the reader.
Readers want you, the crafty writer, to create a clear, accurate, and complete mental picture. Use a simple, yet adequate, writing style to express all the finer shades. You must know the thing you need to describe; simply seeing is not sufficient. Pictures drawn from the image on the retina of the eye are superficial.
It is not what a writer sees that really interests us. It is how he saw it.
A painter saturates his soul with the color before he paints a living picture. A writer may draw a fair picture of a city or landscape by viewing it from a car window. But the description which lives in the mind of the reader is not drawn to his satisfaction. We must use
descriptions from scenes that have become a part of us, by our living with them. The singer with a purple Mohawk and lip piercings and the teenage girl with a frightened face are not worth writing about. Anyone can see the same color, the same faces, and the similar types of people. What the reader wants is to see something in them, to feel a spirit in the arrangement. A writer cannot give the reader these things unless they have become a part of himself.
Observing people is a good exercise because it helps the writer to observe mannerisms that he may want to use in a character sketch. When the writer breathes life into a character, he must tap into his knowledge gained by living with such character until his being becomes part of the writer’s own consciousness. To produce excellent work, we must use material we have learned to know—not that we have merely seen.
When you describe, choose something distinctively your own. Unleash the inner meaning of it, its spirit in your spirit, then look at your choice of words. A writer should be a master of words to translate images into descriptions. I have found it excellent practice to force myself to describe something every day, even if it is a 15-word description that I “tweet” via Twitter. During the day, I will take a break from my writing assignments, and write a description, such as: the ice that glistened in the morning sun, the sunset hanging below the rooftop of a wedding chapel, an old building I have passed, a person I have met, or anything that interests me. These sketches I carefully revise, and then usually delete. Occasionally, when I feel I have done something well, I save it on my computer and re-read it when I have writer’s block.
Take as much time as you need to conform your writing style to the scene.
Visualize how you want to describe a character or scene before you start writing; this will help you choose the right words in clever ways that will interest your readers. If you are describing scenes which produce vivid impressions, then use short, concise sentences. Gorgeous, breath-taking scenes require more elaborate phrasing. But practice in phrasing will not perfect the way you write.
Take some advice from Nobel Prize-winning American novelist and short story writer, William Faulkner: “All of us have failed to
match our dream of perfection. I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. If I could write all my work again, I’m convinced I could do it better. This is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps working, trying again: he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t.”
Every bestselling writer, including Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, will tell you that a writer never reaches perfection in language. He often fails. But patient exercise always brings good results.