For many years, I loved Harlequin Romances (Intrigue sub-genre), but most particularly any Regency by Georgette Heyer. Why? Because the great romances are rich in character, and I read (and write) for character.
But let me confess: I always skim descriptions of clothes. I mean, for crying out loud, get on with it, yes? I want to see what the character does.
And yet there are readers who devour those descriptions, whose eyes want to see each rope of pearls, each complex setting of gems in the diadem, each fluted and scalloped border of lace—(already my eyes are glazing over. Sorry.)
The point isn’t my taste, though. It’s about knowing YOUR readers, yes?
- Do your readers demand every piece of flitter and glitter? or do they want to know the character underneath the clothes? or both?
- Is their interest piqued by architecture and furniture? or landscape or cityscape?
Only you can determine that. Just as there are things you love to write, there will always be readers who would love to read what you write.
Whatever we write, it must bring to mind an image.
Two things happen when we read:
- We see imagery, and
- we hear sound (more on this in a future blog post).
Ready to expand the richness of your imagery?
Then come here each Friday for a new image, which you can examine carefully, then post your description in the comments. The more people who post their description, the richer our skills become. I shall respond to each description with comments about what works well, and what might need a bit of work. Don’t worry. I’m known for being gentle. (Still shy? Then click here for an example of one of my reviews.)
Keep in mind that using words to portray images is actually quite a tricky thing. While there is no right or wrong way to do it, there are ways that produce a higher rate of reader interest. The point is to know what ONE THING you wish to focus your reader’s attention on, i.e., what one IMAGE or SENSE do you want to create in your reader’s mind? In other words, do you want them to see contrast of light and dark? or straight lines or fluted edges? dark, somber color or a glimpse of starkness? Do you want them to feel at ease or tense? repulsed or attracted?
The most successful imagery is that which leaves behind the image, but no real sense of the words used.
For example, I love the following description of a man’s voice from Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, but I can NEVER remember the precise wording. All I remember is the FEEL of the man’s voice.
“It was like acid spilling over a polished surface, to show the stripped wood, coarse and ugly. There had been splashes of the same corrosive this afternoon (282)”.
You already know that great writing is about practice, yes? Deliberate, intentional practice. And great imagery is about more than just color; it’s about texture, form, and non-conformities of things. It’s about comparison. The richest writing compares one thing to another—a voice to acid over a polished surface—and this only becomes second nature when we practice it every day. (In January 2013, I shall be writing a post about creating comparisons—like to like, like to unlike.)
Look carefully at the photo of the trillium I posted above. In the rain forest of Washington State, where I took this photo, it’s a common sight. So common, indeed, that most natives of Washington’s rain forest no longer SEE the miracle of this flower. Wherever there is abundant dampness, there is the trillium. Despite its abundance in the Olympic rain forest, it’s not a common flower for readers. So study this photo for a bit, and ask yourself “What strikes me about this photo?” Is it shape? color? contrast? Spend a few moments writing ABOUT the trillium, in terms of what strikes you about it.
THEN, and only then, should you try to describe it in writing for a reader. Remember, you must know what ONE THING, what one shape or color or texture, you wish the reader to use to form their image.
Write a description of the trillium featured at the top of this page. Post your description in the comments section. And no, don’t be shy! We learn from each other, and it’s fun to see the many ways in which this image can be described to our readers. (Note: click on the photo for an enlarged version of it in a new tab or window.)
Have fun with this one! I’ll post mine in a few days. DO NOT BE SHY! POST!
Write in JOY!