Monday, April 1, 2019

Strength in Description

"Brevity is... wit."
- William Shakespeare (abbreviated)

A number of these posts emphasize using an economy of words, and not throwing around a bunch of extra stuff. This time around, I am offering an exercise that goes in the opposite direction. In this exercise, try and describe one particular aspect of an item or action - be as specific as possible - by using at least ten words. Don't use a simple adjective or adverb to describe the respective noun or very, but expand it into a metaphor or simile that gets a little wordy.

In last month's post, "Getting the Most From Your Verbs," I talked about when enhancing the action could be done with one word, ten words, or no words at all, and when some things only added fat to the writing. This led to an interesting discussion in subsequent workshops about when it was appropriate to use an adverb, go for a simile, or just let things stand as read. This was a very interesting question, and the answer about what to use was equally complex.

Try everything.

It's never easy to just jump in and create a metaphor or simile in the middle of a description, but that is because that part of creativity is often neglected. We introduce a room with no light and our instincts go to "dark," "pitch black," or "a room with no light." These are workable descriptions, but we can definitely get more mileage out of it if we give it a little time and effort. So, relating back to the exercise, introduce the room in ten words or more.

(Here's a hint: Think about the mood you want to set for this room. Scary? Emotionally heavy? A sense of emptiness or abandonment? Let the mood inform your descriptions as much as the darkness.)

Hopefully, you now have a few ideas that go beyond "the room was dark, really dark, like something that was very dark, but darker." Some ideas that popped into my head were:

  • "The room was devoid of light, of energy, of anything suggesting life was here."
  • "Emptiness filled the room, leaving the senses numbed by the absolute lack of presence."
  • "Shadows filled the room, crowding out the light, filling the space with an absence of light, joy, or hope, daring anyone to walk in and challenge their hold on the darkness."

All those rooms are dark, but it's fair to say that they all create a different sense of dark. And yes, they are wordy. But now that we have created a little mood and turned a dark room into something that builds on the mood, we can trim the fat from those sentences and make something clean and efficient. The economy of words will come into play again, and the result will be something that will engage your readers and want them to know more about something as simple as a dark room.

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