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How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: The Different “Eyes” of a Writer (3)

Depending on your writing process and style, the eyepiece could be the physical world,
or it could be the world of the inner eye, the world of dreams and illusions.
Or you might be a writer for whom the world themselves
– their sounds, rhythms and shapes create the world of story or poem.

– Rebecca McClanahan

I think every writing class should begin with the concept that a writer can write from different “eyes.” McClanahan identifies six “kinds” of eyes that a writer can use.

The naked eye is most simple and easiest to use – it is based on reality, on what exists right before your eyes. As in the previous post, McClanahan emphasizes that the problem is that writers don’t often stay long enough with a subject to observe its dynamic form and nature. As a result, we lose the details that could give what we are describing a different perspective. She writes, “The most common things yield startling surprises when we give our attention to them.”

The eye of the imagination is more complex than the naked eye.  It is almost undefinable and the author uses the words of the poet Anne Sexton to define it: “Sometimes the soul takes pictures of things it has wished for but never seen.” When one writes from the eye of the imagination, it is the same kind of writing that poet Stanley Plumly describes in his essay, Words on Birdsong: “Poets cannot make things up. Poets make things from – from memory; from matter that cannot be changed, only transformed; from the rock of fact that may disappear … but cannot be made out of hand, so evaporate.

The eye of the imagination is more complex because the author identifies a few other “kinds” of eyes that originate from it: the eye of memory; the growing eye or third eye; the all-accepting eye; the child’s eye; and the dream eye. 

“If description is the flowering, it is also the root and stem of effective writing,” wrote Rebecca McClanahan in her book, Word Painting, A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. I’m reading this book because I meet my Waterloo every time I have to describe something in writing. I honestly feel this makes my writing flowerless. This is such a good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to write well. I’ll be using this blog to take notes as I read through this book, so this post is part of a series. I hope you’ll learn along with me.

eyePhoto credit: ella debe estar tan linda! via photopin (license)


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