Monday, June 11, 2018
The Personal Touch
I am a balding man, the remaining hairs turning from brown to gray as the season of my life changes. Age is finding its way across my forehead, underneath my eyes, and definitely around my midsection. While my smile still carries a youthful mirth, a fatigue weighs down its happiness. That mischief in my eyes has dulled over the years, a flicker that once said, “I have a great idea for a prank,” now can only mutter, “If only I were younger.”
Yes, that is a fair description of me from one particular point of view. However, for the purpose of this blog, it’s a pretty useless description. It might be good writing, but what does it actually say? And more to the point, why should my loyal readers care?
Most of the regular readers of these posts want to work on their writing, which means they want their advice to come from a writer. Nothing in that description suggests the trappings of an experienced writer – it sounds more like the laments of a depressed alcoholic (which I insist I am not). There is nothing in that description that would inspire a writer to write.
But how does anyone describe themselves as a writer? If I wrote an accurate piece of what I looked like hunched over my laptop, fretting over each word of this post, it would be a description of a writer – but only as a verb; a man writing. No, a writer is more than that.
When we describe people, we should first follow the rule in the last blog post, “The Emotional Description”: What is important? Does a great writer have to be bald? Graying? Wrinkled and aging around the edges? The answer is no, but then we consider another rule: If these features are worth mentioning, can we introduce them in a way that makes us think of a writer? Can we put physical descriptions into a writer’s context?
Looking at the original description, we have the balding, graying guy. If those are important qualities, we should rewrite them to fill in the character traits. With a few spins on the writer premise, we can describe an actual writer:
“His hair thinned further with every draft he rewrote, every stack of editor notes he fought to address. The constant corrections pushed the hairs from their follicles, the surviving ones turning gray from fear of the next set of revisions. Every new story weighed on him, draining his energy, deflating his expression, all while he sought that elusive success.”
“He was about writing. Creating the stories, thinking about them, the process never left his mind. Did he get a prescription to fix his thinning hair? Shop for dyes to color in the gray? Such trivial things didn’t matter. The burden of the years took its toll, but fixing them could wait until he had written his fill of stories; a day that would never arrive.”
We have now drawn a sketch of a frustrated writer and of an obsessive writer, both while maintaining the physical traits from the original description. And as we get more creative, we can add other features of the character into the same piece. A mention of a wife, and he’s married. A wife and kids – Boom! Instant family! Going to see his ex-wife and kids – divorced, and fertile ground for more description.
Any time we have an opportunity for description, we have the chance to really create a multi-dimensional image. A few well-placed words can make the most mundane thing leap off the page, and it will add a richness to the story that the reader will notice.