By Janice McCaffrey
My critique buddies tell me I need more detail in my descriptions.
Oh, my heck!
The word description gives me sweaty palms and heart palpitations just like the phrase dangling participles.
Whenever I hear any grammatical term I’m transported back to Mrs. Foster’s eighth-grade English class. She’s handing back our descriptive paragraph assignment. I’m sitting at my desk waiting, feeling confident in my efforts. After all one day I’ll be a famous author.
Standing next to me, Mrs. Foster clears her throat and places a piece of loose leaf paper on my desktop. Face down. Beside the next desk she repeats her ritual. The room reeks with the smell of nervous teenagers. Kids clear their throats, cough, and squirm in their seats.
I take a deep breath and gather my courage. I worked hard on this assignment. I’m proud of the result. How bad could it be? I watch as my shaking fingers squeeze the paper so tight I leave a deep wrinkle. I wonder, is my heart still beating? Clinching my jaw I turn the paper over.
Stunned, I don’t move. I stare at too many red check marks to count. And right at the top of the page is a big, fat D–.
I hold my breath and bite my lip to stop the tears from streaming down my red face. I swallow hard to get the acidy taste off my tongue.
The bell rings and I watch my classmates sprint to the classroom door. I don’t know if my knees will hold me up. But I do know if I don’t move, I’ll be late to my next class. I stand and walk trance-like into the crowded hall.
That’s it, I think. I’ll never be an author.
I hate composition and especially grammar.
I never learned how to repair my errors. That assignment didn’t teach me how to write descriptive paragraphs, it just screamed, “You’re Dumb!”
Today I ask myself, can my inner-teenager overcome her self-doubts and embrace grammatical terms? Will I ever forget those few minutes of shame so many years ago?
Well, the good news is: I’m workin’ on it.
How? How else? Google, of course.
I love Google!
Don’t ask why, but I began my Google exploration of descriptions with noses. I found Zwivel.com Sniffing Out Nose Shapes which lists the twelve most common nose types: fleshy, turned-up, Roman, bumpy, snub, hawk or aquiline, Greek, nubian, East Asian, Nixon, bulbous and combo.
I examined a multitude of images (photos of people and famous statues) testing my power of observation by identifying which nose would be categorized under which type.
Another search led me to word lists for writers on KathySteinemann.com Resources for Writers & Poets, 300+ ways to describe noses. She also has word lists to describe necks, ears, smiles, eyes, etc. etc.. At Wattpad.com there’s Vocabulary – Word Lists for Writers by The Otakunerd and at tumblr.com Reference for Writers.
At WritingWorld.com I found a blog called The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life by Anne Marble. Her topics in this discussion are: Avoid Huge Lumps of Description; Make Description an Active Part of the Story; Describe What Your Characters Would Notice; Words, Words, Words; Use All the Senses; Fit the Description to the Type of Story; Avoid Excessive Name-dropping; and Don’t Let Description Hang You Up during a First Draft.
And last, but not least, at Wiki How.com how to do anything . . . I found How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph:
Descriptive paragraphs include details that appeal to the five senses: sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. In a descriptive paragraph, the writer must convey information that appeals to all the senses in order to give the best possible description to the reader. Descriptive paragraphs are commonly used in fiction and non-fiction writing to help immerse readers into the world of the author.
I’m impressed with the amount of free information online to help writers. Not only words, but how to: outline, plot a story arc, bring characters to life, edit, rewrite, and find editors or publishers. This is a great time to be a wanna-be-author.
As I pursue my quest, I repeat to myself, I think I can, I think I can.
And every so often I declare,
“I can . . . I will . . . and . . . I did!”
I love it, Janice. Fleshy noses rock. As does help available to writers on the internet. Helpful and entertaining. Thanks, and see you at critique group. Karen
Thanks for a good reminder on scene building. Need a good description every time.