Tag: Description

Video Saturday: #Writing Advice from Nalo Hopkinson (How to Write Descriptively)

Great video today on writing descriptively from Ted Ed by award-winning author Nalo Hopkinson. Hey, the fact this video starts with these lines…I was hooked.

“Her legs were noodles. She began to question her half culinary existence when she realized her hair was poison needles.”

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#Writing with Color – Writing help from Ingrid Sundberg

Author Ingrid Sundberg loves collecting words. She collects them, writes them down, makes lists of them and uses them to improve her writing.

“One of my on-going word collections is of colors. I love to stop in the paint section of a hardware store and find new names for red or white or yellow. Having a variety of color names at my fingertips helps me to create specificity in my writing. I can paint a more evocative image in my reader’s mind if I describe a character’s hair as the color of rust or carrot-squash, rather than red.”

And one of the coolest things she has done is put together a color thesaurus that YOU can use to improve your writing. I’ve included a few examples below (only red, white, and blue) but you should take a look at her website to get the full effect: http://ingridsundberg.com/2014/02/04/the-color-thesaurus/.

colors blue colors red colors white


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#Writing and #Worldbuilding Resources

WorldBuilding Moon, Cityscape and Book

World building is one of those parts of writing fiction that people either feel comes naturally to them or that they struggle incessantly with.  I can’t say I’ve met anyone who says, “Oh yeah, it’s just another part of writing.” One of the activities we are doing in our local writing group is having presentations and guided discussions as a way to share information and resources and learn together. I just led tonight’s talk on worldbuilding.  We talked about how we did it as individuals, what we struggled with, what we enjoyed and how our writing process was impacted (i.e. are you a plotter or pantser and how did that play in).

Just thought I would leave some of links that we used below:

Worldbuilding Information and Resources

 Collected for Cat Vacuuming Society Writing Group (7/9/15)

30 Days of Worldbuilding Exerciseshttp://www.web-writer.net/fantasy/days/
These are short, 15-minute exercises that can help you make crucial decisions about your world, and what you want your story to say about it.

Jump-Start your Imagination Creative Writing Exerciseshttp://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/2011/02/jump-start-your-imagination-creative-writing-exercises-for-worldbuilding/

7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding http://io9.com/7-deadly-sins-of-worldbuilding-998817537
When worldbuilding fails, it can wreck your whole story, and leave your characters feeling pointless.


Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuildinghttp://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/09/17/25-things-you-should-know-about-worldbuilding/
Worldbuilding is one of those topics that bakes my noodle every time my brain chooses to dwell on it. I have a whole bucket full of opinions, many of them in stark disagreement with one another. World-building covers everything and anything inside that world. Money, clothing, territorial boundaries, tribal customs, building materials, imports and exports, transportation, sex, food, the various types of monkeys people possess, whether the world does or does not contain Satanic “twerking” rites.

Patricia Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions on SFWAhttps://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/
The list of questions is meant to aid authors of fantasy fiction who are seeking to create believable imaginary settings for their stories. While many may be helpful, they will not all apply to every story. The idea is simply to provoke people into thinking about the ways their settings and backgrounds hang together.

Worldbuilding versus Storytelling (Or Does the Phantom Menace have Better Worldbuilding than Star Wars: A New Hope) – http://io9.com/does-the-phantom-menace-have-better-worldbuilding-than-1026016172
The original Star Wars doesn’t explain. You’re just thrown in the deep end with a space battle. In The Phantom Menace we have trade disputes and negotiations. Does the prequel then have better worldbuilding than A New Hope?

Hunter Liguore’s World Building Through Map Makinghttp://www.draftjournal.com/content/draft_exercise-liguore.pdf
Let’s say you’re writing a story about a family that lives on a farm in the late 1800s. (Think O Pioneers! by Willa Cather.) Your main character works in town, two miles from the farm. If you were to make a map, you would immediately mark these two locations. But what else is there? What surrounds the farm? What might your character encounter on that two mile journey? Some questions you might ask yourself.

Geographic Descriptors for #Writers – Caves, Cliffs, and Rocks (#3 in the series) by Octoswan

When it comes to geographic descriptors from Carolyn/Octoswan, we’re still not done. This week – Caves, Cliffs, and Rocks. As always, you can check all of them out at her website here.

Geographic Descriptors TitleCaves Cliffs Rocks

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WWW: Yo Homes, Smell Ya Later

This is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down.

Wait, no it isn’t.  This is instead a story all about a writing group getting together to improve their descriptive techniques.  That’s the current side focus of the Cat Vacuuming Society of Northern Virginia, after we talk about the immediacy of personal writing goals and do any critiques for the week.  We’re doing an in depth tear down of short description-heavy passages from each group member, looking at what each does right and could do better.  I’d like to talk about two, plus my own.  One of the passages took place on a teeming dock as a trading ship pulled into port. Another took place in a hospital waiting room.  Both of these are places that I associate with very specific smells.  The dock would have the fresh sea air mixed with exotic spices from around the world, all likely overpowered by the stronger stenches of dock workers.  Hospital waiting rooms tend towards the antiseptic, smelling so clean they almost sting the nose and lungs.  The problem is, both passages missed out on their opportunities to include any olfactory description.

We then got around to my passage, a character walking through an 1860s southern town just before a massive explosion, and…yup, it was pointed out my own writing was also lacking scent cues.

Smell is possibly the hardest of the scents to put on paper.  We’re surrounded by them constantly, but rarely think about them.  Right now, for example, I can smell the hot chocolate sitting on my desk that’s just a little too hot to drink.  It’s a sweet, rich aroma, with a hint of vanilla because I may or may not have added a little flavored creamer.  However good it smells, though, I have to think about smelling it.  Otherwise it’s just as much part of the background as the HVAC blowing overhead.  The nose is designed to ignore smells that persist over any period of time, otherwise we’d constantly smell nothing but ourselves, or even just the insides of our nostrils.  The paradox is that, for all the passivity of scent, smells are also tied more directly to our memories than any other scent.  It’s why people exhibit such loyalty to brands of perfume, cologne, or aftershave, why people think of things as their smell.

It’s also one of the harder senses to actually put into words, possibly because it’s so passive.  So in the end we often use tautologies.  Let’s smell my hot chocolate again.  Mmm.  The easiest word I can use to describing the scent is “chocolatey.”  It’s describing the smell entirely in terms of itself, like calling the feel of sand paper “sand papery”.   As writers we’re dealing with an anosmic medium, where we frequently need to describe aromas not in relation to themselves, but in words that a reader can understand if he or she has never smelled the item in question.  It’s no use calling the aroma of my drink chocolatey to someone who has never before smelled chocolate.  And while it’s likely that your readers have smelled chocolate, there are other aromas in your book they haven’t.  There are people in the world who have never smelled sea air.  Or a fresh cut pine tree.  Smells we might consider pervasive, universal experiences, may very well not be.

So it’s a two part problem.  We don’t think to describe smells, as smell is often such a passive sense, and we struggle to find the right words to evoke smells without resorting to tautologies.  My challenge to you is to go through a day and try to be more aware of what you’re smelling.  Think about what smells different about being inside versus outside.  Between inside your office versus your car or house.  Between when it’s raining and sunny.  Between when the temperature is hot, neutral, or cold.  Consider the smell of water, both from your tap, from a lake, and from the ocean.  A character doesn’t need to run through a scene smelling everything, but as with all descriptions, a few telling details can go a hell of a long way.  Figure out those details in your life.

Writing prompt (yes, I’m going to start doing these, blame me listening to Writing Excuses): Smell something, whether pleasant or unpleasant, then write a sentence or two describing that smell to someone with anosmia.  This means no describing it in relation to other smells.  Instead, try using words related to the other four senses.  Post your results, and perhaps we can even get a discussion going about which bits are done well or poorly.  I promise my own contribution shortly after this auto-posts.

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