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In addition to the five traditional senses—sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound, use of the sixth sense—mood (not the ability to see dead people) is equally important to writing rich, believable scenes. Whatever you call it, even the most detailed description can fall totally flat without deliberate evocation of the appropriate emotion. Ok, now that you’ve read my attempts, let’s review a piece from a Master of Description.Let’s try that car-crashing-into-a-tree example again. Below are two examples that each have a particular tone or mood that enhances the actual description. Charles Dickens is one of those writers whose settings are known by people who haven’t even read a single sentence of his work.
Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.
Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats.
Adding the sights, smells, and sounds allows the reader to imagine the moment. Interjections of emotive phrases heighten the sense of danger.
It’s a relatively simple way to better engage your reader and bring him or her deep into the world you are creating. It’s a more realistic reenactment of a car crash and the person experiencing it.
I opened my eyes to find my Caddy hugging a tree; its shiny blue hood was now ruffled like a prom dress, the radiator was sighing like a lover, and the sweet aromas of antifreeze and gasoline danced to the rhythmic tinks and pops of the car as it settled into its arboreal embrace. Dickens’ early to mid-1800s London is the baseline for so much of how we see and remember that period of time in books, movies, and theater.
The imagery and metaphors suggest a lighter, less scary moment.
Even so, the mere mention of those things likely conjured up entire settings for you.
So again, just finding one really evocative smell to describe will go a long way. And if they are truly silent, describing the of sound will be interesting in itself.
So when you set out to describe a person or a place in your story, you should first make a mental list of all the details you could mention to bring it to life (with the items on the list appealing to a variety of sense).
It’s then all about selecting the best details you can come up with, and leaving the mediocre ones out.