Last night I was trying to explain description to a friend. You know what I’m talking about, right? Description is when your characters see something and describe it to the reader. Or when you, the author, want to describe something to the reader. It’s what you do to get whatever you want to describe getting across? Is it enough to say the ocean was blue and rough or the trees were tall, and the mountains were high? The reader will know what you mean, but will they enjoy reading it? Will it transport them to that place you’re trying to create in their minds?
Ah, give me a second. I think what we have here is the difference between showing and telling! I know that this has been discussed in many, many, many blog posts before but perhaps I should add my own version.
Don’t tell me what you saw. Show me what you felt seeing it. Do you know Monet? Or any other impressionist painter? Gauguin, van Gogh, Turner.
When you think of their paintings, do you see a thing first, or the mood the artist was in?
Think of van Gogh’s Starry Night. Stars don’t really look like that.They’re not visible to us as great wheels of light in the night sky; and we rarely get to see the Milky Way. What van Gogh shows us is his impression of stars in the sky, reality filtered through his mind. He shows us the light of the stars that he imagines.
What those impressionist artists did with their paintings, we authors strive to do with our writing. We want to take our readers with us on a journey through our fantasies, we want to show you the world as we see it. That ocean? It’s not just blue and rough. It breathes, and throws tantrums, it talks back to the sky, it dances with the beach. I throws its salty spray onto our faces to lure us into its waves, it tells stories from other continents, from its long trek around the globe. Writers must look beyond the obvious. We reach for the soul of things, and try to bring it out into the light.
A forest is a forest, and its trees are tall, but it’s also a living thing. It has its own scent, its own air, its sounds and mysteries.
We writers look through the veil of reality, we seek the deeper meaning, we prod and wheedle and tap until it’s revealed to us. We peel away layers of fabric, of the mind, of feelings, until we get to the root of things, and then, when we’ve looked at it for long enough, we bring it forth and present it to the world.
The trees stretched all the way into the sky, their highest branches reaching for the passing clouds. Rain dripped through the foliage, moving from leaf to leaf ever downward until it came to rest on the mossy ground. The air was rich with scent, a heavy perfume of earth, dampness, cedar resin.
Or you could say, of course, the trees were tall.