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Building Your Descriptive Muscles

Cheryl's Musings: Building Your Descriptive Muscles

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Building Your Descriptive Muscles

Read and study others' writing: writing craft books often repeat this advice, but they don't often explain how. I mean, yes, it's useful to pay attention to what works and what doesn't work when you're reading a great book, but I think there are more efficient ways to exercise your writing muscles. How do we build every other sort of muscle? By using them--and by using, I mean performing specific exercises to strengthen specific muscles.

I think that's the best way to develop our writing muscles, too: perform specific exercises designed to strengthen specific writing muscles (okay, skills....) Here's where studying books comes in. You can use a great passage from a great book as a model for rewriting one of your own scenes.

For instance, Cassandra Clare has some clean, evocative descriptions in her urban fantasy, The City of Bones.

p. 65--start of new scene: "The library was circular, with a ceiling that tapered to a point, as if it had been built inside a tower. The walls were lined with books, the shelves so high that tall ladders set on casters were placed along them at intervals. These were no ordinary books, either--these were books bound in leather and velvet, clasped with sturdy-looking locks and hinges made of brass and silver. Their spines were studded with dully glowing jewels and illuminated with gold script. They looked worn in a way that made it clear that these books were not just old but were well-used, and had been loved."

This passage continues for two more paragraphs of description. The main character, who is seeing all this for the first time, doesn't notice the room's other occupant until the end of paragraph 3.

Want to give your own descriptive writing a boost? Take this passage and rewrite it in your voice, using a setting from your story. Start with the big picture (The library was circular...) and zoom in to the specifics. What about your setting merits three sentences full of sensory detail and emotional reaction? Give it a try. You'll like the result. Really.

And the next time you're writing description, your writing muscles will be a little better tuned to the job.

:) Cheryl

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