“. . . Don’t use adjectives which merely describe how you want us to feel about the thing you’re describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was ‘terrible,’ describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was ‘delightful;’ make us say ‘delightful’ when we read the description.”
– C.S. Lewis
“It’s not that the parking lot is lonely. It’s that it’s empty, and there’s one seagull pecking at an abandoned bag of cold french fries next to an old Escort with a dent in the door and a dirty, crumbled battle of the bands poster.”
– Maggie Stiefater
If you’re like me, you struggle with “show, don’t tell.” Today, while doing some writing practice, I think I’ve discovered some things that help me a whole lot.
- Think about your setting – does your scene take place in an autumn forest, or in an apocalypse-destroyed city? Try to come up with as many details as you can. If you’d like, you can look up photos of what your landscape may look like, to help you describe it (i.e. browsing Pinterest for “autumn trees”).
- Think of a few adjectives that describe your landscape. I just now practiced writing a scene that took place in a forest during autumn, so I’ll be using that as my example right now. I used the adjectives “beautiful,” “lovely,” and “stunning” to start out with, because in my mind, this landscape I’d chosen truly would take my breath away (more about that later). Don’t use those adjectives in your description, unless truly necessary – they’re for your own personal reference.
- Imagine you’re standing in your landscape – how does it make you feel? What does it mean to you? This time I’ll use my other example: a not-quite-as-good area. Picture this – you ran away from home over a year ago, and since then you’ve been doing nothing but traveling. Suddenly, looking down a hill, you catch sight of something that takes your breath away – a place surrounded by chain link fence, clouded by a haze of smoke, emits a strong smell of oil that makes your nose tingle even from where you’re standing. You know what goes on in here – the merciless people who work in this place kill innocents. Those poor people were only passing by when they were sentenced to a torturous death that they far from deserved. You realize that you, like those innocents, are close enough to be captured and murdered ruthlessly as well. How does it make you feel? Make sure your story gives off this feeling, so your readers also feel the same. One way to do this is by listening to music that fits this mood.
- “The whole forest was lonely and desolate.” That’s okay, but by saying this you’re basically telling the reader to do your job for you. Try something more along the lines of, “The forest’s floor was littered with dying leaves, making oddly loud crunching sounds underfoot. The breeze rustled leaves that were still clinging hopefully to their trees, and an occasional lifeless leaf would hit the ground; even that made a sound that was almost too loud for comfort. Here, where I was the sole being alive, there wasn’t a sound that didn’t reach my ears.”
I can’t guarantee how well this will help you – it helps me, so I figure I’d post it and see. 🙂 Hope you liked it!