Do you ever sit down to write only to discover hours later that you’ve done nothing but stare off into space with a blank look on your face, occasionally breaking from your stupor to notice that you haven’t written a single word?
Conversely, have you ever noticed that after watching an intoxicating film or listening to a mesmerizing piece of music, you feel that creative impulse start to throb, luring you to your keyboard or notebook? Read More
Creative writing, like all art, is subjective, and therefore difficult to define.
Certainly fiction and poetry qualify as creative writing, but what about journal writing, articles and essays, memoirs and biographies? What about textbooks and copywriting? Technical writing? Blog posts?
Where do we draw the line between creative writing and other types of writing?
In some cases, what qualifies as creative is obvious. You read something and you know it belongs in the creative category. Other times, a piece of writing, while skillful, might not strike you as creative in nature. And then there’s everything in between – stuff that’s sort of creative or not quite creative enough.
Creative Writing and Art
People have been struggling to define art for centuries. Some feel that a Monet is definitely art and a child’s drawing is not. Others would say that both are art, and a few would even argue that a child’s work is a truer form of art because it’s not developed or learned. It’s completely intuitive and therefore more creative and artistic.
Creative writing presents us with the same dilemma. Does a piece of writing qualify as creative by merely existing? Would we refer to a legal document or instruction manual as a piece of creative writing? Does a straightforward essay or something like an encyclopedia article qualify as creative? What about letters or emails? Is creative writing determined by the level of skill versus talent?
For the most part, defining creative writing is a subjective pursuit. You can determine what creative writing is for yourself, but others may see things differently. Yet there are some types of writing that most of us would never refer to as creative writing, and a few types that we’d probably all agree on.
Obviously Creative Writing
As mentioned, when you think about creative writing, fiction and poetry spring to mind, possibly because the creative nature of both fiction and poetry is so obvious.
Fiction is made-up stuff borne from the imagination and therefore inherently creative. Poetry too, takes many liberties with language and imagery, and many poems are rooted almost entirely in creativity. Song lyrics also fit well with fiction and poetry, as does screenwriting, since all of these types of writing certainly require a significant level of imaginative and creative thinking.
But many other types of writing are creative as well. When you read a memoir with beautiful turns of phrase or an essay that fires up your imagination, you know that you’re experiencing the writer’s creativity. Conversely, when you read a bit of dry, factual material, you’re positive that it’s not creative writing at all.
Obviously Not Creative Writing
While these types of writing may require some level of creativity, they are not usually considered members of the creative writing family. That might sound exclusive or elitist, but one of the things that defines creative writing is how enjoyable it is to read.
It’s easy to glance at a poem and know that it’s a piece of creative writing, and it’s easy to flip through a legal document and know that it’s not. The problem with defining creative writing is all the stuff in the middle – writing that may or may not be considered creative, and that makes its membership in the club completely subjective. So, what is creative writing?
Creative Writing is Subjective
If a historical textbook is not creative writing, then wouldn’t that exclude other nonfiction works like memoirs and biographies from the creative writing category?
The line that separates creative writing from other types of writing is not drawn between fiction and nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is a broad genre and includes memoirs and biographies, personal essays, travel and food writing, and literary journalism.
While nonfiction indicates that the writing is rooted in fact, it can be quite creative (unlike technical or medical writing) because it is written with emphasis on language and the craft of writing.
Creative Writing and You
Ultimately we each get to decide what is art and what is creative writing. Most of us will know creative writing when we experience it, either as a writer or as a reader, even though we rarely take the time to examine why we consider one type of writing creative over another.
A few questions to consider:
- Do you differentiate between creative writing and other types of writing? Do you even think about it?
- Have you ever thought about the difference between literary writing and other types of creative writing?
- Do you feel that copywriting (ads, commercials, etc.) can be classified as creative writing or art even though its purpose is strictly commercial?
In the big scheme of things, it may not be that important to go around labeling what is and isn’t creative writing, but it’s certainly worthy of a few brief moments of consideration.
In any case, keep writing (and stay creative)!
Do you have any ideas to add or questions to ask about creative writing? Leave a comment!
Practice makes perfect, right?
That’s exactly why journal writing is essential for writers.
Do all writers keep journals? Of course not.
But most of us have kept journals at some point, and for most of us, journal writing has been instrumental in generating ideas, developing a strong voice, and learning how to flesh thoughts out onto the page.
Journal writing is an excellent way to improve your writing by taking a little time out of each day to hone your skills. It’s perfect for stashing all those creative writing ideas that you don’t have time to develop right now, and journal writing gives you an opportunity to explore your thoughts in greater detail and to access those thoughts that are somewhat elusive.
Probably the most famous application of journal writing comes from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In it, she encourages people who are trying to connect with creativity to write every single morning. “Three pages of whatever comes to your mind — that’s all there is to it.”
Writing morning pages is like boot camp for your muse. By writing every day at the same time, you train her to show up when you say it’s time to work. Cameron’s methodology also involves turning off the inner censor, that little voice that berates every sentence.
The key is to simply let the words flow.
Think about it — if you write three pages a day, in seven days, you’ll have twenty-one pages. In a month, you’ll have about ninety pages, and in one year, you’ll have well over a thousand pages. That’s a lot of creative material to pull ideas from. And that’s why journal writing is a great tool for all creative people.
Get on the Writer’s Express
If you’re new to writing or want to explore writing as a career or hobby, then journal writing is your ticket onto the expressway to becoming a writer. You can use your journal to draft stories, sketch characters, jot down poems, or record the events of your daily life. Maybe after one year and over a thousand pages, you’ll be able to do some editing and publish your memoir.
Journal writing is also great for commercial writers (technical writers, copywriters, etc.), who spend all day writing and editing copy for clients. This type of writing is a lot different from writing stories or poems; journal writing can help to get your head out of business and into more creative forms of writing. The creativity you cultivate will then seep into your professional writing, and it will become more vivid and engaging.
Sticking to a Schedule
Even if you don’t stick to a rigorous schedule, it’s important to journal somewhat regularly. This helps keep ideas and language flowing and helps you build the journal writing habit. You may only be able to journal on weekends or on certain days of the week. While I do think sticking to a schedule (preferably daily) is the best way, it’s not always realistic.
The most important thing is that you commit to journal writing and then proceed to keep your journal with you or nearby at all times. You can also carry smaller notebooks or scraps of paper and either glue or tape them into your journal later.
You’ll Need a Journal
I’ve been writing a journal on and off for more years than I care to admit that I have under my belt. Throughout all those years, I’ve tried every type of journal under the sun, and finally, I found my favorite for journal writing.
Technically, the Watson-Guptill Sketchbook is just that, a sketchbook. The pages are blank instead of lined, so you can doodle and write sideways.
Some writers can journal using anything — composition books, legal pads, napkins. I can do that too, but I don’t feel the same connection to it as when I have my own sacred space especially for journal writing.
When I journal, I usually do freewrites or describe the goings-on in my life. Sometimes I write about my goals or ideas. Other times, I draw, and I usually do that with Crayola Markers of all things!
Recently, I’ve got it into my head that I’ll start journal writing on the computer. But it’s just not the same as having that pen and paper in my hand. It’s almost like I’m closer to my creativity or my subconscious when I’m using a pen. I’m not sure if that’s true or even possible, but it sure feels that way.
Have you ever kept a journal? Do you keep one now? Let’s talk about how journal writing has impacted our writing or even our lives. And don’t forget to mention what type of book or paper you prefer to use for journal writing — or do you do it on the computer? Online? Is your blog your journal?
We’ve all read books, articles, and poems that we completely forgot about once we were done. But some written works linger. They haunt us or stimulate our thoughts. They provoke our emotions.
That kind of writing is special.
When you create an emotional connection between your writing and your readers, there’s a lasting impression.
Those two works, along with dozens of others, became threads in the tapestry of my world. That’s the power of writing that slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart, as Maya Angelou described. This kind of writing affects people, influences them, and shapes their lives because it’s imbued with passion.
Maybe your readers will enjoy your work but get back to their lives as soon as they’ve closed the cover on your story. Or maybe you’ll make a difference. Maybe you’ll change lives and make some small (or great) change in the world. There’s no right or wrong way, but putting a little passion into your writing certainly increases the chance that your work will stick with people.
Quotes on writing: source
Each writer has a distinct style. We repeat certain words and expressions; there are patterns in how we arrange words in sentences and paragraphs, and our writing often carries a recognizable tone.
The term for an author’s distinct writing style is voice.
Wikipedia defines a writer’s voice as “a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).”
In college literature courses, my class would be given a long list of quotes, and we had to identify the author of each one. The professors didn’t expect us to memorize the entire literary canon; we were to have studied these authors’ works enough to be able to identify their quotes by the voice.
Imagine someone reading a snippet a text and knowing that you wrote it! That’s style. Read More
Wikipedia defines narrative as “any report of connected events, actual or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, or still or moving images.”
Put simply, narrative is story — a sequence of events with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Narrative can be true or fictional. It can be relayed in writing, through photographs, in film, and even in song.
Narrative comprises a huge segment of creative writing, so let’s take a look at narrative in action and examine some key traits of narrative writing.
What is Narrative?
The word narrative is often thrown around by the media, politicians, and commercial enterprises, especially advertisers. These folks understand the power of narrative, which can be used to spread a message, cultivate emotional connections, and control a story.
Consider Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head at age fifteen because she wanted to go to school. Malala survived and went on to become a world renowned advocate for girls’ education, focusing on regions of the world where girls are deprived of education. Malala’s story, or narrative, was instrumental to her ability to step upon the world stage and broadcast her message to the masses, and in 2014 she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Celebrities excel at using narrative to build their brands and cultivate emotional connections with their fans. Watch any music competition show on television and you’ll see the contestants sharing their life stories, often emphasizing the difficulties or conflicts they’ve experienced. It’s been said before: conflict is story. When audiences see these contestants’ struggles, they want to root for them, and a fandom begins to blossom. Throughout a celebrity’s career, the narrative continues, as we watch their highs and lows: they go through relationships, struggle with drugs, get married, have kids, and get divorced. It’s a long, ongoing narrative, and it keeps the fan base tuned in and buying books, movies, music, and magazines.
Politicians also use narrative to forge an emotional connection, but they are often more invested in controlling the story than sharing it. As they reveal their life stories to us, they pick and choose which parts to include, forging a selective narrative that emphasizes their strengths while downplaying their weaknesses.
And we can watch any commercial on television to see narrative being used to sell products and services. We see exhausted but devoted moms and dads looking for better ways to keep their kids healthy and the house clean. There are hipsters searching for the latest and greatest gadget, which will surely make their life funner and easier. Commercials are overrun with people who want to be beautiful and attract a mate. These are narratives that a target demographic can relate to, which is why commercials sell millions of products ranging from food and cleaning supplies to computers and makeup.
Why We Love Narrative
Whether we’re buried in books or ogling at a screen, we love to immerse ourselves in narratives.
Why is that?
An article on Wired titled “The Art of Immersion: Why Do We Tell Stories?” delves into the science behind why we love stories so much:
Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence. That it’s common to every known culture. That it involves a symbiotic exchange between teller and listener — an exchange we learn to negotiate in infancy.
Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature — a face, a figure, a flower — and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise.
So how do we find meaning in stories? How do we use stories to make sense of our world? Let’s look to fiction and personal narratives for the answers:
Nonfiction (personal) Narratives: Storytelling is used in memoirs and documentaries to convey true stories. When we hear about a devastating natural disaster on the other side of the world, it’s difficult for many people to put it in context. But when we hear firsthand accounts of survivors who describe what it was like to witness and experience the disaster — when we hear their narratives — we can better relate to the events that transpired. We begin to understand what it was like to be there, and our empathy engages.
Fictional Narratives: Fiction, however, is probably the most beloved form of narrative writing and story consumption. Books, movies, television shows, and even video games give us made-up stories. Whether a historical novel that carries us into the past so we can gain insight on what it might have been like to live in a world without technology or a science-fiction film that takes us far into the future where technology has surpassed our wildest imaginations, fictional narratives, like true narratives, give us access to experiences that we’ll never have and allow us to gain better understanding of the world we live in, and in some cases, the world we might someday live in.
Whether we write prose or scripts, narrative writing is a useful tool for sharing our thoughts, experiences, and ideas with others. We can use narrative to pose questions, like What will happen when artificial intelligence becomes smarter than humans? What was it like to be aboard the Titanic? What is it like to climb Mount Everest?
There are several key elements that we find in successful narrative writing:
- Characters: They can be made-up characters or real people. Audiences develop relationships with characters; it is through this bond that we connect with stories.
- Conflict: All the best narratives are built around a core conflict or story question. We stay tuned in because we want see how the conflict gets resolved. We want to find out the answer to the questions that the story poses.
- Plot: Plot is action and dialogue, the rising and falling of tension, the arc of a story. Plot is what happens. We engage intellectually with a narrative’s plot.
- Setting: The backdrop of a narrative sets the stage and helps the audience enter a story world. Setting is crucial, even if it’s minimal.
- Point of view: Who’s telling the story? Who’s it about? Who does the camera follow? The narrative point-of-view is the point of connection between a story and its audience.
As you pursue narrative writing, ask whether you’re including these essential elements and whether they’re woven into the narrative seamlessly.
Are you a storyteller? How do you use narrative writing? Do you aim to educate and inform, share your thoughts and ideas, or entertain audiences? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing narrative!
When we talk about creative writing, we tend to focus on fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. But there are many other types of creative writing that we can explore.
No matter what you write, it’s good practice to occasionally dip your pen into other waters. It keeps your skills sharp and your writing fresh. Plus it’s nice to take a break from writing the same thing all the time.
Let’s look at fourteen types of creative writing. As you read through the list, identify the types of writing you’ve experimented with and the types you’d still like to try.
Types of Creative Writing
- Journals: Journals are often confused for diaries. Technically, a diary is a type of journal, but a journal is any written log. You could keep a gratitude journal, a memory journal, a dream journal, or a goals journal.
- Diaries: A diary is a specific kind of journal where you write down the events of each day, resulting in a chronicle of your life.
- Essays. Not all essays are creative, but plenty of essays flow from creative thinking. Some examples include personal essays, descriptive essays, and persuasive essays.
- Storytelling: One of the most popular types of creative writing is storytelling. Storytelling lends itself to both fiction and nonfiction. Popular forms include flash fiction, short stories, novellas, and full-length novels. But stories can also be firsthand or secondhand accounts of real people and events.
- Poetry: Another popular but under-appreciated type of writing is poetry, which is easily the most artistic, creative form of writing. You can write form poetry, free-form poetry, and prose poetry. Or try writing a story in rhyme (perfect for kids).
- Memoir: Memoirs are personal accounts (or stories) with narrow themes and specific topics. They are usually the length of novels or novellas; shorter works of this kind would be considered essays. Memoir topics focus on specific experiences rather than providing a broad life story (which would be a biography). For example, one might write a travel or food memoir, which is an account of one’s personal experiences through the lens of travel or food (or both).
- Vignettes: A vignette is defined as “a brief evocative description, account, or episode.” Vignettes can be poems, stories, descriptions, personal accounts…anything goes really. The key is that a vignette is extremely short — just a quick snippet.
- Letters: Because the ability to communicate effectively is increasingly valuable, letter writing is a useful skill. There is a long tradition of publishing letters, so take extra care with those emails you’re shooting off to friends, family, and business associates. In fact, one way to get published if you don’t have a lot of clips and credits is to write letters to the editor of a news publication.
- Scripts: Hit the screen or the stage by writing screenplays (for film), scripts (for plays), or teleplays (for TV). You can even write scripts for video games! As a bonus, scripts have the potential to reach a non-reading audience.
- Song lyrics: Close cousin of poetry, song lyrics are a fun and creative way to merge the craft of writing with the art of music. Writing lyrics is an excellent path for writers who can play an instrument or who want to collaborate with musicians.
- Speeches: Whether persuasive, inspirational, or informative, speech writing is a discipline that can lead to prosperous and interesting career opportunities in almost any field ranging from science to politics to education.
- Journalism: Some forms of journalism are more creative than others. Traditionally, journalism was a straightforward, objective form of reporting on facts, people, and events. Today, journalists often infuse their writing with opinion and storytelling to make their pieces more compelling. For good or bad, this new practice opens journalism to more creative approaches.
- Blogging: A blog is nothing more than a publishing platform — a piece of technology that displays content on the web or an electronic device. A blog can be just about anything from a diary to a personal platform to an educational tool. In terms of creative writing, blogs are wide open because you can use them to publish any (or all) types of creative writing.
- Free writing: Open a notebook or a document and just start writing. Let strange words and images find their way to the page. Anything goes! It’s the pinnacle of creative writing.
Which of these types of creative writing have you tried? Are there any forms of writing on this list that you’d like to experiment with? Can you think of any types of creative writing to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Sometimes we’re overwhelmed with writing ideas. We work on multiple projects simultaneously and are constantly bombarded with new ideas that we’ll never have time to fully explore, let alone turn into active projects.
Other times we’re at a loss. Ideas are sparse and none of them hold our attention or inspire enough passion to see a project through to completion.
Ideas and inspiration remain a mystery. They are so mysterious, in fact, that thousands of years ago they were personified as goddesses in ancient Greek mythology. These goddesses were known as the muses. Of the ancient Greek deities, the muses have been the most persistent. Even today, creative people will refer to their muses and discuss inspiration as if it’s an external supernatural entity.
Most of us cannot summon new writing ideas on command, and we’ve all experienced the random arrival of a magnificent idea, which often comes at an inopportune time, like when we’re driving, showering, or otherwise engaged. We shoot down good ideas because we deem them as unoriginal. We sit and wait for fresh writing ideas to magically appear instead of nurturing our creativity and actively pursuing inspiration.
Finding and Developing Fresh Writing Ideas
If you’ve ever struggled to find inspiration, you know how frustrating it can be when you want to write but the words, the ideas, just won’t come. Creativity is fleeting, but we can nurture it. We can break bad habits, adopt good ones, and adjust negative attitudes.
Adopt a few of these practices so your imagination stays active and your pen keeps moving to the tune of a constant stream of writing ideas:
- Make time for creativity every day. Nothing will stifle creativity like ignoring it. When creativity strikes, give it your full attention. If that’s not possible, then set aside a little time each day (or a few times a week) to be creative.
- Stop trying to be so original. Writers often complain that their ideas are not good enough, not original enough. Everything has been done before. Stop trying to be different and focus on being yourself.
- Consume art and let it inspire you. Read as much as you can. Not only will good books inspire you, they will also improve your writing. Visit museums, listen to lots of music, and watch plenty of TV and movies.
- Keep an idea journal or notebook. There’s nothing worse than experiencing a flash of brilliance only to lose it because you didn’t write it down. Save those ideas!
- Become an observer. You’ll get some of your best ideas from taking in the world around you (and the people in it). Every day, you’re exposed to bits of dialogue, interesting stories, and funny situations. Turn these into poems, stories, articles, and essays.
- Foster curiosity. The world is curious place, so ask questions about it. Allow yourself to wonder at everything from the stars to human psychology. You’ll find ideas in the questions you come up with as well as in the answers.
- Practice writing even when you’re uninspired. Go through your idea notebook or practice writing descriptions. Make lists of words and phrases. Brainstorm character names. Just because you’re not brimming with ideas doesn’t mean you can’t get a little writing done. And as you write, ideas will start to flow.
- Steal ideas. Some of the greatest stories are merely echos of the stories that came before. In fact, some of the most successful stories are blatantly based on classics. Put a fresh twist on an idea that’s already withstood the test of time.
- Play and pretend. Children have vivid imaginations for a reason. They spend the majority of their time playing and pretending. That’s why they’re so full of ideas.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Try something new and different. Often a change of scenery or using different tools while you’re writing will engage your imagination and get your ideas flowing.
Do you have too many writing ideas or not enough? What do you do when you’re fresh out of ideas?
One of the most valuable writing practices I learned in college was free writing.
When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.
At first, free writing is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you’ll produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.
Free writing allows you to generate written material for a variety of projects. It can also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts.
Train of Thought
The first few times I tried free writing, I botched it. I would describe everything I’d done that day or jot down my thoughts on a particular subject in a random, messy way. Finally, in one of my creative writing classes, I got to hear some examples of free writing and something clicked. Free writing is not about train of thought; it’s about stream of consciousness, and there’s a big difference.
Here is an example of one of my early attempts at free writing:
I set the microwave timer for thirty minutes so that I wouldn’t write for too long, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if I did. Usually I do free-writes in a journal. I have a tendency to reflect on the current events of my personal life during a free-write.
Yes, I was actually writing about how I was writing.
Train-of-thought writing is coherent. For the most part, the text makes sense, as you can see in the example above. The technique involves writing on a particular subject in a clear manner. This can be useful in many ways, but it won’t tap into your deeper creativity the way free writing will.
I use train-of-thought writing to clear my mind or as a brainstorming method to churn out all the information I have stored in my head. But when I’m looking for poetic images or fresh ideas free writing does a much better job.
Stream of Consciousness vs. Train of Thought
After hearing another student’s free writing read aloud, I had a much better grasp on it. Here’s a sample of what I wrote once I better understood what free writing was all about:
in moonshine eyelet lace a rhapsody of liquors dancing off light reflected in the cut glass spoons stirring iced candy meltdown of hopes washed out memories of faded photographs and standing in line at a supermarket eyeing the magazines their eyes watching you like cats high up in trees crying for freedom but afraid to come down
The key to stream-of-consciousness writing is to relax your thinking mind and let the images of your subconscious take over. For some people, it takes a little practice, but once you get it down, it becomes a fun and creative practice. So what can you do with it?
Applications for Free Writing
Once you’ve built up a nice collection of free-writes, you have created a repository of images and lines, sentences, and paragraphs. You can now go through and harvest that material for your various writing projects. As you can imagine, the fruits of free writing lend themselves particularly well to poetry.
When I’m writing poetry, I often go through my free-writes with a highlighter, marking words and phrases that pop or strike me as especially meaningful or aesthetically pleasing. Then I pull these from the free-write and use them to compose a poem.
Free-writes can also be used to bring creative, colorful language into prose. Strong images and rich language generate work that is more literary in nature, and if done well, it’s a lot more fun to read. It will help you generate words that show rather than tell and make your story or essay come alive in a reader’s mind.
Have you ever tried free writing? Do you tend toward train-of-thought or stream-of-consciousness writing? Are there any other writing practices you recommend for creating more vivid prose or poetry?
If you have any experiences with free writing to share, please leave a comment.
Writing description is a necessary skill for most writers. Whether we’re writing an essay or a story, we usually reach a point where we need to describe something by explaining what it looks like or how it works.
But many writers find description challenging to write, and many readers find it boring to read. Before the advent of photographs and film, description was essential. A person in the American Midwest who had never seen a tropical island would need a detailed description in order to visualize it. Nowadays, thanks to technology and modern media, most of us know what a tropical island looks like — no description required.
However, I think it’s safe to say that technology and media has also spoiled us. We’ve become increasingly visual, which means it’s getting harder to use words to describe a scene, especially if it only exists in our imaginations. Although some writers are naturally gifted at writing description, it’s a struggle for many of us.
Descriptive Writing: What Does it Mean?
The term descriptive writing can mean a few different things:
- Descriptive Essay: A descriptive essay is pure description and designed to build skills in descriptive writing. It can describe a person, place, event, object, or anything else. It focuses on using words to establish visuals.
- Description as part of a larger work: This is the most common kind of descriptive writing. It is usually a sentence or paragraph (sometimes multiple paragraphs) that provide description, usually to help the reader visualize what’s happening. It’s most commonly used to describe a setting or a character. An example would be a section of text within a novel that establishes the setting by describing a room or a passage that introduces a character with a physical description.
- Writing that is descriptive (or vivid) — an author’s style: Some authors can weave description throughout the prose, interspersing it through the dialogue and action. It’s a style of writing that imparts description without using large blocks of text that are explicitly focused on description.
Depending on what you write, you’ve probably experimented with one of more of these types of descriptive writing.
Tips for Writing Description
I’ve encountered writers whose descriptions are so smooth and seamless that I easily visualize what’s happening without even noticing that I’m reading description. Some authors craft descriptions that are so lovely, I do notice — but in a good way. Some of them are so compelling that I pause to read them again.
On the other hand, poorly crafted descriptions can really impede a reader’s experience. Description doesn’t work if it’s unclear, verbose, or bland. Most readers prefer action and dialogue to lengthy descriptions, so while a paragraph here and there can certainly help readers better visualize what’s happening, pages and pages of description can increase the risk that they’ll set your work aside and never pick it up again. There are exceptions to every rule, so the real trick is to know when lengthy descriptions are warranted and when they’re just boring.
Here are some general tips for descriptive writing:
- Use distinct descriptions that stand out and are memorable. For example, don’t write that a character is five foot two with brown hair and blue eyes. Give the reader something to remember. Say the character is short with mousy hair and sky-blue eyes.
- Make description active: Consider the following description of a room: There was a bookshelf in the corner. A desk sat under the window. The walls were beige, and the floor was tiled. That’s boring. Try something like this: A massive oak desk sat below a large picture window and beside a shelf overflowing with books. Hardcovers, paperbacks, and binders were piled on the dingy tiled floor in messy stacks.
- Weave description through the narrative: This isn’t always possible. Sometimes a character enters a room and looks around, so the narrative needs to pause to describe what the character sees. Other times, description can be threaded through the narrative. For example, instead of pausing to describe a character, engage that character in dialogue with another character. Use the characters’ thoughts and the dialogue tags to reveal description: He stared at her flowing, auburn curls, which reminded him of his mother’s hair. “Where were you?” he asked, shifting his green eyes across the restaurant to where a customer was hassling one of the servers.
Does descriptive writing come easily to you, or do you struggle with it? Do you put much thought into how you write description? What types of descriptive writing have you tackled — descriptive essays, blocks of description within larger texts, or descriptions woven throughout a narrative? Share your tips for descriptive writing by leaving a comment, and keep writing!