Descriptive writing. Maybe you want to capture a memory before it evaporates or share that secret place to your audience. Maybe that’s your way of making a living. Whatever the purpose people have in mind, you are well aware it is not easy. This is a work in progress of me exploring the way, and let me share it with you.
Basically there are two methods.
TAKE BEAUTIFUL, HIGH DEFINITION PHOTOS.
WRITE A SUCCINCT, CAPTIVATE DESCRIPTION ABOUT THE PLACE.
The two methods aim to show readers/ viewers an unique perspective. Photographers and writers both have been to the places and tell their stories with different tools. They have the right to focus, zoom in then emphasize some special characteristics of the landscape picture. They may make the background blur to highlight the lovely facial expression of a person. And the effect can be seen right away. Instagram and photo-heavy sites get uprising popularity for a reason. Pictures give viewers an immediate, strong impression without having to say anything.
Saying doesn’t mean writing is redundant. Words, in fact, should be best friend of photographers. In descriptive writing, you put your senses, feelings, some bits of memories to the picture. You can Zoom in, then Zoom out, then get away for a bit and let your readers’ imagination fly with an unexpected comparison. You can get back in time, project to the future, and when you want, stay right there and dwell deeply to that detail.
Most of the time the right pictures can evoke all your senses and bring you back to that moment with all the vibrant particulars, and you start writing, in smooth flow. This writer from Thenewyorker shares her beautiful experience of how pictures help wake up vivid memories.
To me, if should be
“I lug around with a camera, then I can tell my story in words even better”
I am not an English native, most of the times I write to showcase my country to foreign friends and I struggle with using, or better said, with finding the right words and word composition for the piece.
I am sure many of you feel the same. What I do find after writing some piece is that:
Writing flow starts in editing process
When you first write, you follow your random thoughts and write whatever. But writing has an amazing capacity to help you focus. That focus works as a magnet which attracts everything that is related. Then with more materials in hands, the inspiration increases. Sometimes I start with a task I need to complete, then it becomes a gratification during the process. It is a strange bliss to play with flow and hold a grip on writing gratification.
So I may not find that adjective I want, but that is okay and I can move on knowing that I can always turn it into a better later, when I edit. Write 1 times and edit 20 times. Same thing happens when I write this post. I don’t think about the editing process. I just want to write something about descriptive writing then move on. The topic itself attracts necessary thoughts and materials for me. The process aligns with lateral thinking that Sean Smith mentioned in his famous Medium post.
Use your freedom with descriptive writing, but draw sensation first and foremost
After reading lots of descriptive writing pieces, I notice that mostly all writers try to create the first impressive paragraph. They will set a high density of images and adjectives here, and let loose with the second paragraph. It seems like they are closing their eyes, trying to immerse themselves and paint with words. If the first paragraph works, it will sets the whole tone for an article and give power for whole flow.
Let’s look at how these two pieces try to put images and adjectives to their opening. It aims to give the first impression of the place.
Taken from Hanoi Hideaway, a website aimed at showing hidden charming cafe corners of Hanoi.
To describe an Old Cafe in West Lake, Hanoi, the writer creates a setting with words. Phrases like “warm lightning”, crisp, tiny corner of calm. The write evens depict an imaginary action where you can see yourself doing that: be drawn into that cafe with good music to enjoy the calmness.
Taken from Hanoisong, a site of an expat writer in Hanoi who has a sensitive and sharp observation of the local life & landscape.
The author is depicting a moving picture. A boat moving slowly. She starts right away with short, descriptive scene. Compared with the paragraph above, both try to do the same thing: depict a scene with all colors, actions. They don’t try so hard though. Just a right dose of immersion and you will get there. That adjective you can’t find? Leave it blank for a moment. Follow the flow and come back to dig the right word later. Even when you are a native writer, “loss of words” happen quite often.