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I get asked about the things I write often. Okay, mostly it’s people asking what the hell’s wrong with me, but they’re taking an interest and that’s good.

Consistently, when I get into writing discussions the same two questions come up. 1) Where do you get your ideas? 2) How did you create (something/someone/someplace)? As for question one, coming up with ideas is easy has never been a problem for me. I get them all the time – when I’m walking, driving, working in the yard, sleeping, showering, eating dinner, reading, breathing. Really, the only time I don’t get new ideas is when I’m, watching TV. Finding something I want to write about is not difficult.

The difficult part for me has always been getting the details and descriptions right. Nothing ruins a good idea faster than missing the details.

You’ve read those stories. The one’s where the author takes nine pages to describe a piece of jewelry or a tree or a freaking tricycle (yes, I’m exaggerating a little). No matter how important it is to the story, too many details can ruin a description. Then again, being 300 pages in and finding out the protagonist has a relevant facial scar or is missing a finger can take you right out of the moment – had it been described badly or did the author fail to mention something that significant earlier. And then there are descriptions that are just wrong, like describing the front fender vents on the ’69 Corvette Stingray as vertical (look at the angle of those vents – especially with the chrome inserts – it enhances that aggressive stance).

Corvette Singray details and descriptions image

The thing is, there aren’t really a lot of excuses for this, the internet makes it easy to get the descriptions correct. Seriously, these days you can pretty accurately describe places and things with just an internet search. And a VR headset is great for getting a sense of scale – if you can deal with the motion sickness. There are a lot of ways to use this high tech world to enhance your writing, and likely get yourself on an FBI watch-list somewhere.

My point is that ideas are only the start, good writing is in the details. Whether it’s the way a character acts or reacts, how much a sword actually weighs, or what can be found in aisle three of the drug store. Without a solid description, ideas are lifeless husks surrounded by intention, begging to take that first breath of life.

You are probably wondering, how do I write good descriptions?

So glad you asked. The answer, of course, is practice.

If you want to be good at anything, you have to practice. But no matter what you’ve heard, writing practice isn’t always writing. In fact, there are a few writing exercises I’ve picked up over the years that have nothing to do with writing.

One of my favorites is “Growing Adjectives”.

While I may not have been the first person to ever put those two words together, it’s the title I made up for this exercise. To begin with, I’ll go to a place where I can watch people. Very often its shopping with Shannon or a walk in a park (for us writers, getting outside occasionally is important). Once I am wherever people are, it works like this:

The first person I see I describe with one adjective, the next person I describe in two adjectives without repeating the first, then three adjectives trying hard not to repeat any of the former, and so on until I lose track of how many I’ve used and start over. For me, that’s usually around the 10 or 12 word mark, though sometimes I get on a roll and just keep going when I lose count.

The great thing about this exercise is it forces me to look for new ways to describe people. I have to see beyond physique and look at mannerisms, intent, and action. It gets challenging pretty quickly, though I’ve often found the elements from those longer strings of adjectives are the ones that will more often make it into my writing.

Give it a try and let me know if you find it useful or enjoyable.

Come back for a new writing topic in two weeks

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