So, remember the last post I wrote (you know, two days ago 😉 ), when I said that everything would be awesome? Well, it seems like it might be a little longer before awesomeness strikes.
I was planning to bedazzle you all with an awesome discussion about two poems by an author named Lee Ann Roripaugh. Of course, to do this I would need the poetry books that I (in)conveniently left at my parents’ house three hours away. That’s what I get for being an English major with only one bookcase in my apartment.
Anyway, sorry for (maybe?) getting everyone’s hopes up about that awesome discussion, but if anyone’s interested, check out a poetry anthology called Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes. In particular, take a look at “Octopus in the Freezer” and “The Woman Who Loves Insects.” (I know, the titles are a little strange, but Roripaugh is quirky and awesome. Trust me.)
Now that I’ve spent a sufficient amount of time rambling about Roripaugh, I think I’ll leave you all with a writing exercise from the creative writing class that I took in undergrad.
I’m sure we’re all pretty familiar with the popular saying “show, don’t tell.” (If you’re not familiar with it, count yourself lucky. There are only so many times I can hear that phrase before I want to strangle the person who says it.)
Fiction is made more realistic through “[s]pecific, definite, concrete, particular details” (Burroway and Stuckey-French 22). Such details often add to the overall credibility of a piece and allow readers to suspend their disbelief. When readers can glimpse the world of the characters, they experience the action along with them. Stories don’t happen in a vacuum, so description helps you paint a picture for your readers.
That phrase “show, don’t tell” is definitely valuable, but it may be a little misleading. When we think of the word “show,” we automatically connect it with the sense of sight—which causes our descriptions to be mostly sight-based.
But what about hearing, tasting, smelling, touching? There’s a whole range of senses to choose from to help deepen your work and give it that added layer of believability.
Let’s take a look at an exercise based on one of those other senses:
Touch. We sometimes neglect to use tactile descriptions in our writing, but we do touch—all the time. Shopping for clothes, shaking hands, playing with pets, shuffling cards, scrubbing pots, shooting baskets. Think of what it means to touch an odd, rare, or even holy object. Consider temperature (tepid, frigid), moisture content (arid, greasy, sticky, crisp), texture (crinkled, gritty, silky), and weight (ponderous, buoyant). All of these sensations provide us with great descriptive words. Use some of them and find others.
Describe the way an action or event feels—putting on a piece of clothing, engaging in exercise, eating a tough or squishy item of food, dancing, moving across a crowded room, carrying groceries in from the car, kissing, waking up, washing the car, whatever. What impression does your description give? Does it prompt a scene? Can you make some characters talk while they’re doing one of these activities? (Burroway and Stuckey-French 71)
Feel free to share your work in the comments section! 🙂
A Brief Works Cited
- Burroway, Janet, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 8th ed. Boston: Longman-Pearson, 2011. Print.
- Roripaugh, Lee Ann. “Octopus in the Freezer.” 2001. Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes. Comp. Ryan Van Cleave. New York: Longman, 2003. 234-36. Print.
- – – – . “The Woman Who Loves Insects.” 1999. Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes. Comp. Ryan Van Cleave. New York: Longman, 2003. 232-34. Print.