Showing posts with label Descriptions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Descriptions. Show all posts

Monday, April 5, 2010

This Side Up

"[The writer] has to be the kind of [wo]man who turns the world upside down and says, lookit, it looks different, doesn't it?"

For me, what separates an author from the pack of writers at the top of creativity's bell-shape curve is the ability to ignore obvious descriptors. Truly gifted and conscientious writers, instead, find a way to turn a description on its head, giving the reader a fresh vantage point from where a thing becomes dynamic and emotionally enmeshed with the narration.

For example, a writer could have her narrator complain, "I was sick to death of being constantly bombarded with sensational stories by New York City newspapers." The narrator's feelings are clear, and 'bombarded' is certainly a strong, high impact verb that carries a lot of emotional bang for its buck. But now consider how Sylvia Plath handled the same thought in the opening paragraph of "The Bell Jar":

"...and that's all there was to read about in the papers -- goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway."

Plath turned the idea on its side, describing the headlines and the places where the papers were sold, using modifiers that painted for the reader the emotional portrait of the narrator's feelings. In essence, her descriptions invited the reader to participate in the scene.

I love this quote by Patrick F. McManus: "Write out of the reader's imagination as well as your own. Supply the significant details and let the reader's imagination do the rest. Make the reader a co-author of the story."

Do you think about your readers as co-authors of your story? Does doing so inspire you?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Saluting Capote's Descriptive Voice

For me, the characteristic that sets an author's writing above the others is a strong descriptive voice. Descriptions captivate me when they flow like water down the riverbed of a story. I want to be pulled into the characters' world through all five of my senses, until my imagination is alive in their reality.

I aspire to write what I'd want to read.

One of the masters of literary fiction was Truman Capote. His penchant for prolific prose was astounding, and his rich descriptions permeate his short stories, novellas, and novels. I'd looked forward to reading Breakfast at Tiffany's this week (the local library's copy was checked out), but settled on a collection of short stories based on Capote's childhood. Here is an excerpt from A Christmas Memory that illustrates perfectly why I admire Capote's descriptive genuis:

Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man's eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. Bost mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies. Last summer, others in the house contracted us a penny for every twenty-five flies we killed. Oh, the carnage of August: the flies that flew to heaven! Yet it was not work in which we took pride. And, as we sit counting pennies, it is as though we were back tabulating dead flies. (Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory, page 10)

The poetic descriptions for the various pieces of money not only held my attention, but they brought the narrating character into sharper focus. Clearly, the narrator was not a city dweller. Only a country boy would see springtime buds in rolled dollar bills or equate worn coins with the smoothness of water-eroded stones. The narrator was not wealthy in the traditional sense, otherwise he wouldn't have kept coins hidden in a beaded purse, had a scrap quilt on the bed, or accepted a job paying only a penny per twenty-five dead flies. We're shown so much in such a short paragraph.

When I read his work, I glean a lesson in creative writing in every paragraph of a Capote story.

Who are your author champions, the writers who exemplify what you'd like to achieve in your own work?