All posts tagged: description

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Move to Inspire the Muse (9)

When we think of paying attention, we usually think of sitting still, of clearing our eyes and ears of distractions and concentrating on the object or scene before us. But sometimes the best way to be still – to still your mind and focus on your subjects – is to get moving. -Rebecca McClanahan McClanahan points to the practice of Claude Monet, whose studio was a boat floating down a river. Monet painted the objects that floated by, which was a challenge because the objects were moving. She explains: “Monet’s artistic vision, coupled with high emotional energy and a seemingly unquenchable passion for light, led him to create works that seemed to describe the most fleeting and fluid moments in nature.” McCalahan asks writers to consider incorporating some form of movement or activity into their writing life: “Concentrating on your body may free your mind to discover its own path.”  Now I understand why the words seem to flow more effortlessly after I do Qi Gong, Tai Chi or Yoga before journaling. McClanahan suggests:  “Before you write, take a …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Keep Your Vision Alive (8)

“Follow the example of poets A. R. Ammons and Jorie Graham: take up painting or sketching as a way of keeping your vision new.” –Rebecca McClanahan McClanahan doesn’t explain how taking art lessons can improve one’s writing, but I have first-hand knowledge of how painting or sketching helps us write better. When you’re sketching or painting something or someone, you don’t think, you look at the details, and see beyond the details. You train your eyes and mind to be observant, to notice how the light “paints” on the subject. The result is an interpretation that is truly and uniquely yours. McClanahan suggests another exercise:”Or follow the example of writer Frye Gaillard, who claims to have a bad ‘visual memory.’ When he visits a place or interviews a subject, he takes detailed notes on what he sees, later expanding the notes into sensory descriptions.”  My attempts at painting “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 …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Engage the All-accepting Eye (7)

“Rather than considering our subject firsthand and describing what we observe, we label it. Because we’ve already established for instance, that slugs are disgusting, we go on to describe them as ‘slimy’ creatures that leave ‘gooey’ trails. Cliché upon cliché.” – Rebecca McClanahan When we write, we have to set aside preconceived ideas and observe our subjects with an all-accepting eye that neither sees good or bad, beauty or ugliness. Our words should describe what we observe. For a writer to write  descriptions that are “rough in texture” yet “smooth as the moon,” McClanahan emphasizes the need to “really look at your subject.” Good description comes after one uses both naked and inner eye, and the all-accepting eye. “Accept every part of the subject, removing those conventional labels – lovely, gross, sweet, inspiring, depressing – that you normally associate with the image,” writes McClanahan. Additionally, she cautions writers on jumping to conclusions. Instead, a writer must refuse to view a subject as he or she had been taught to view it: “Look long enough and …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Grow Your Third Eye (6)

“When we engage not only the naked eye but the growing eye as well, we begin to see  the extraordinary within the ordinary.” -Rebecca McClanahan The “growing eye” or “third eye” that is invaluable to all artists is that ability to look beyond the physical manifestations of things, people and events. The poet and mystic Gerard Manley Hopkins called this ability the “growing eye” because it expands when it learns to participate emotionally and spiritually with whatever it is we focus on. The example McClanahan gives us of a writer using her growing eye is  Annie Dillard who wrote the book Holy the Firm after living on an island in Puget Sound for two years. Dillard wrote: “I wake in a god. I wake in arms holding my quilt, holding me as best they can inside my quilt. “Someone is kissing me — already. I wake, I cry ” ‘Oh,’ I rise from the pillow. Why should I open my eyes? “I open my eyes. The god lifts from the water. His head fills the bay. He is Puget …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: The Eye of Memory (5)

When the eye of the imagination is engaged, it illuminates the artful possibilities hidden within actual events. From the hard rock of fact, stone by stone the writer builds a castle – Rebecca McClanahan Rebecca McClanahan describes the Eye of Memory as a “kind” of Imaginative Eye. When she talks about the use of memory in writing, she goes beyond the mere recollection of past events. McClanahan emphasizes that as writers, we should use the facts and details of our experiences as raw materials that we should transform into a new shape. If you are a fiction writer, you can transform your experiences by taking an event or experience and “loaning” it to a character who is very different from you. “Hand over the event, no strings attached, and see what your character does with it,” writes McClanahan. Or, you can take two events which happened years apart and place them in the same story or poem and see how they interact with each other. McClanahan explains, “The interaction between the two events will force you …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: An Exercise in Observation (4)

The naked eye provides us with sensory, concrete experiences. The imaginative eye opens up other worlds. –Rebecca McClanahan   Here’s an exercise in observation that is geared towards training the naked eye to see more intently. Choose an ordinary object – a soup bowl, comb, or blanket. Make sure it’s an ordinary object you see or use everyday. I made the mistake of choosing a big quartz crystal and questions about its origin distracted me from observing it. The second object I used was a pair of scissors. That worked better. Place the object in the center of a table, or right in front of you. Set a timer for 10 minutes and  observe the object you chose. Use your eyes and other senses. Smell it, feel its texture, look at the small details. If your mind wanders (and it will), gently bring your focus back to the object. Among other things, you’ll realize how long ten minutes could be when you have nothing else to do but observe a simple object. When the 10 minutes …

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 …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Key Ingredients (2)

Description begins in the beholder’s eye, and it requires attention. If we look closely long enough and stay in the moment long enough, we may be granted new eyes. —Rebecca McClanahan In Chapter Two of Word Painting, McClanahan says that good description begins with observation. When we focus on something or someone long enough, we begin to notice things that we would have missed if we didn’t give our full attention. Singer and songwriter Paul Stookey said, “Sometimes, if you sit in one place long enough, you get used. You become the instrument for what it is that wants to be said.”  McClanahan advices writers to keep on looking, to put the writer’s eye to use as often as possible and long enough so that we will be able to see forms emerge and patterns reconfigure themselves. Says McClanahan: “Most of us simply don’t stay in one place long enough to be used.” She also pointed out that the advice a comet-hunter gave to novice comet-hunters during a radio interview could also work well for …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions (1)

“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. McClanahan says that description is one third of the story telling tripod; with exploration and narration as the other two legs. She emphasizes that “Description doesn’t begin on the page.It begins in the eye and ear and mouth and nose and hand of the beholder.” According to McClanahan, the most essential task of a writer is careful and imaginative observation. That means I’m in big trouble because I have no patience in noticing. My eyes skim scenes and gloss over details. I’m only in the first chapter and so far McClanahan has not yet presented any exercises that I can do to help …