Descriptive Writing Tip 4

Moment by moment description of events is a key feature of descriptive writing.

So instead of saying

I walked into the dentist’s office and sat on the chair”

you describe the event so that the reader feels drawn into the experience:

The clink of instruments falling into metal trays and the cloying smell of drills and disinfectant filled me with despair. I was back here again, in the place from all of my nightmares, but this time was real. Now I shimmied onto the cold blue leather and the whirr as the motorised chair came to life added to my rising panic. As it stretched out beneath me, I too opened my jaws until they ached with the effort; tasted the powder of the tight white gloved hand as it pulled at the corner of my mouth; squeezed my eyes shut and dug my fingernails into the soft palm of my trembling hand to distract myself from the pain. Here it comes, here it comes, the prick and the sting and the cold cold kiss of the needle, then the flooding numbness, and the feeling of temporary relief, all too soon destroyed by the searing screech of the drill as it spins hideously closer. Save me, I want to scream, but I’m already almost choking on my own spit, pooling at the back of my mouth. I wiggle my eyebrows at the nurse and she obligingly slips in the suction tube to stop me from drowning. Why is it, I ask myself, as I stare at the ceiling, weary and numb and exhausted, that a visit to the dentist always feels like a brush with death?”

However, if this is part of a longer story, it needs to go somewhere. It needs to have a point. Perhaps it turns into an unexpected love story where the next thing the narrator notices is how lovely the dentist’s eyes are, and how gentle his hands are, and how kind his laughter. Perhaps it turns into an actual brush with death when the dentist notices a growth on her neck, grabs a blade and slices it off. Psychopath alert!!! Perhaps this is a character study and the narrator is attempting to explain how she became addicted to prescription painkillers – maybe it all began with this visit to the dentist.

In storytelling, it doesn’t matter where it’s going but each event that’s included must be leading somewhere, capturing some truth, revealing something previously hidden.

Of course, if you are just writing a descriptive essay, but there is no demand for it to become a short story, then a series of seemingly unrelated word pictures (like this one) with an overarching theme (“Moments I would rather forget“) would work fine. In this case I would recommend a mix of tones – funny, embarrassing, uncomfortable, sad, shocking. Otherwise it might turn into a whinge, which no-body likes!!! (I’m the mum of a smallie, believe me when I say, no-body likes listening to a whinge!).

Writing has a rhythm.

You can write like you’re listening to a lullaby, can allow events to slowly unfold, with a gentle soothing pace and a flow that mirrors a lazy Sunday afternoon. Writing like this often embraces the beauty and the tragedy of the ordinary and can have a philosophical depth that will creep slowly into your heart and leave you pining when the reading is done.

You can write at a canter, clipping along nicely from event to event, not pausing to admire the roses but seeing them briefly as you pass them by on your way to the next big moment in your story.

You can write like a fire-breathing dragon is hot on your heels, speeding from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, transforming your reader into a crazed adrenaline junkie!

Of course there’s nothing wrong with mixing it up! Your writing, like a piece of music, can change pace and tone midstream and multiple times during the piece. But be aware of your pace, not so slow that the reader gets bored, not so fast that the reader hasn’t time to get into the story, to care about the characters and to feel like they buy into the world being described.



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