25 Jan 2015: Improving your Descriptive Language


As I look back on my progression as a writer, the things I’ve noticed changing in how I initially write my first drafts, I think the most obvious change is how I’ve improved my descriptive language.   I’ll give you an example.  When I first started writing my novels, I might have written something like this:

“Sara walked over and looked out the window, only to sigh.”

When I finally had written all five of my novels and got back around to polishing up number one again, I found myself adding depth and color to the words, adding flesh to their bone so to speak.  I might have changed the above sentence to something like this:

“In the perfect stillness of her dorm room, Sara slowly rose from her unmade bed.  With the weight of her guilt mentally dragging her down, it took effort, but she forced herself over to the windows.  She needed the light, she needed to see the life that was scurrying about down in the quad below.  She tried to smile, tried to feel their happiness, but all she felt was how deeply she’d wounded him with her careless words.”

Yes, that rewrite of book one was agony!  From the point in which I first started to seriously write, up until I started that agonizing rewrite, I’d been hard core writing my novels every day for 4-6 hours a day.  I was proof of the old saying, that if you want to be a writer, or just a better writer, you need to write … a lot … everyday.   I did, and the time it took me to rewrite my first novel was proof of that.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a good book to begin with, but over the ensuing years I’d slowly learned to write with my senses.  I think this is the key to good descriptive language.  When a character enters a new environment, I like to describe it with as many senses as seem plausible.  How does it smell, look?  What sounds can you hear?  Where is the light coming from?  Paint a picture with your words for the reader to be able to experience what you are in your head with you.

There’s an apple orchard on a slope of a mountain that my characters are always visiting in all my novels, it’s their special spot.  I love to describe how the trees are heavily laden with ripe red fruit, how the air is thick with their sweet scent.  As the enter the orchard, a breeze makes it’s way up the mountain to rustle the tall grasses in the abandoned collection of apple trees and how it’s bathed in the warm afternoon sun of fall.
It paints quite a picture doesn’t it?

How does it smell: Sweet like apples
What do you feel:  Gentle breezes and warm afternoon sun
What do you hear:  That gentle breeze in the tall grasses
What do you see:  Apples trees heavily laden with ripe red fruit

I think it was when I stopped having to ask myself how to write like this and just started doing it, that I moved up to the next level as a writer.  Sometimes it’s upsetting to read my early work and realize how much progress I really needed to make.  the hubris of the young is a true blessing in this case.  But it also gives me hope for the future.  If I’ve come this far in less than three years, where will I be three years from now?  One can only imagine.  Stay tuned and you can find out with me.



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