Good Evening, Everyone!
I hope the month of July brought the blessings of Summer to you all in unique and wonderful ways!! How many of you have cameras/phones full of pictures commemorating the Summer so far? I know I do, and I hardly done anything.In my last blog, I talked a bit about the reality in our works, and I shared some of my secrets on getting past a piece that gets bogged down by separating the necessary reality from the unnecessary, and then making the work your own. Today, I want to add some fun to the work process. It is one way that I use to separate and organize the reality of a piece. I’m going to describe a scene for you from my Summer, then issue a challenge.
The air was heavy; not from smoke or smog. In 100 degree temperatures, the mists coming from the puddles and the lawns was a mucky steam. It carried the smell of mildew, fresh animal tracks, and disintegrating blossoms.
Walking through the yard was more like a first lesson in ice skating, as I tried to reach the car before a crackling tree branch gave way to the frantic squirrels racing up and down it. The car needs moved before the roof is crushed by branch and trapped squirrels.
The wind has come up within the past five minutes, and this is not a good sign for the end of this oppressive day. It will take the hand of God to protect us from the storm that is brewing.
I made it to the car, and got it moved. Just as I put it into park again, the first pellets hit the hood. Squirrels have quit dashing in frantic warning to the other yard critters, and are now riding out the winds in their nest, while the birds have sought sanctuary in the bracings of the patio awning. The lawn has bowed to oncoming ice pebbles beginning to fall, giving way before getting beat down.
The siren sounds; a loud piercing wail, causing the dogs to howl pleadings to come inside with me. As we go into the house, the grey that was is now blackness with white stones of icy destruction falling from the clouds we can no longer see. It is 3:00 in the afternoon, in the middle of July.
As we hunker in the basement; the dogs and I; I think to myself: “What have I gotten us into? Why did we come here? Is this what the future holds?”
Based upon this description of a weather change during a basic Summer day: Tell me: Where am I? (Hint: It is not safe to assume I am describing a typical Summer day in my home state. I have been many places where this is a realistic afternoon.)
So what’s the trick to describing a scene in one given time frame and one specific place so well?
Taking pictures! Yes, a writer should be prone to committing detail to memory. However, an active writer is going to be in hyper thought mode sometimes, and we often get trapped into the words more than being freed by the images we want to create. So, I cheat. I take pictures: in my phone, in my kids’ phones, on a little digital that hangs off my wrist 85% of the time, in disposables that need developed, and in the Canon professional grade digital. And we can’t forget the video cam.
Now you’re asking: What does taking pictures of everything have to do with writing? AAAHH! Thank you for asking. Now, we get to the challenge.
I’m pretty sure that everyone has a series of pictures in your cell phones, or your own cameras, that were collected over the events of a 24 hour period of time. this Summer Go through those pictures. Pick out a selection of those that occurred over 1 to 3 hours of any day. Try to find the ones that were all taken with the same location where you enjoyed the day the most.
Make a slide show of those photos. Watch the slide show all the way through one time.Then repeat it. As you watch it through the second time, try to write three descriptive phrases of the scenery in each slide.
Repeat the show, while writing down two phrases of the smells you remember experiencing while being there. You might not get phrases for each slide for the smells; and that’s ok.
Repeat the slide show one more time; writing down emotions you experienced on this adventure, in this location; include the physical sensations that came with those emotions. (Just remember to keep it innocent and clean.)
Set the slide show aside and give yourself 20 minutes with your collection of phrases; to write an enticing, or frightening description of that one place.
Once your piece is written out, make it available to those who went with you that day, or someone you know who might have been in the area at any other time. Have them read your description. Ask them to tell you where you were writing about. After they guess, show them your slideshow and have them evaluate the accuracy of your description.
This challenge will help you hone those descriptive skills like none other. And you don’t have to use it for just scenery and landscape descriptions. It works really well for people you want to use as a basis for characters, but you want to change their features some as you go.
One key to writing well is to understand that talent is your foundation. Skills and disciplines are the framework of your piece. Imagination and creativity pull and hold the structure together. That doesn’t mean that sharpening the skills and practicing the disciplines have to be boring or hard. I hope that sharing some of my techniques will help demonstrate that. And that the challenges I issue prove my point by encouraging you to make the “work” of your current or next project just a little more fun.
Until next time…