Description Envy

In the last few weeks I have been captured by some particularly vivid description. The writing was so delightful that the image the author created has lingered with me. Even after just one reading or watching, I can remember the exact phrasing.

I know this case of description envy is worse because I need to improve my skill at adding detail and metaphor to my writing. For some reason, I just thought it came naturally to some people, but while reading yet another book on the craft of writing, I was disabused of this notion. Those perfect phrases I wish I wrote are the hard work of a writer who has discarded the first, second, and perhaps even the third or fourth thought that came to them. Only after digging deeper does the author reject the cliché, then the slightly overused, and the done before, to land on the fresh idea.

To help inspire you to excavate your own creativity, I thought I’d share some of the wonderful phrases that had made me so envious. The two sources are remarkably different, but both are impressive in their genres. I’d like to note here, too, that neither is the genre I write (fantasy). One of the best ways to get fresh ideas is to read and watch outside your niche.

House of Cards

Yes, it’s been available on Netflix for a while, but I was busy binge watching Arrested Development and Orphan Black. HoC’s recent Emmy nominations and a friend’s nagging finally prompted me to watch it this week. I’m only two episodes in at this point, but I might have to start watching with pen and paper in hand. Kevin Spacey’s character has a knack for metaphor that reveals as much about his character as what he’s describing. His dialogue repeatedly distills complex situations and emotions into perfect short phrases. Here are few of my favorites, which I wish had come out of my characters’ mouths:

In reference to his wife and their rather peculiar relationship: “I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood.”

On having breakfast with the Speaker and Majority Leader of the House: “They talk while I imagine their slightly salted faces frying in a skillet.”

While the martyr falling on his sword is a cliché, HoC did it in a fresh enough way it was clever again: “What a martyr craves more than anything is a sword to fall on. So, you sharpen the blade, hold it at just the right angle, and then…”  Spacey looks to the martyr character and waits, “3,2,1…” and the character metaphorically falls.

A Food Blog on Beer

I’m not really a beer drinker. There are a few I don’t mind, but in the hot of summer, I’d much prefer sangria or a good mojito. Honestly, if given the choice, I’ll drink water before beer. So why did I read an article online entitled 36 Cheap American Beers, Ranked?  Because a beer drinking friend of mine couldn’t stop laughing while he read it in my presence. After about the third excerpt he read out loud to me, I made him text me the link. Taste, smell, and touch are some of the least used senses in fiction writing. The descriptions of the beers were so overflowing with details from these neglected senses that I got grossed out a couple of times. I’m never going to drink any of these beers, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be challenged by word pictures like the following:

“Keystone separates itself from the rest of the crap pack by augmenting the typical stale/sour flavor profile with notes of brown bananas and green armpits. Keystone is worse than Heineken and murder.”

Rolling Rock. Smells like three fat guys in a two-man tent.”

Miller Genuine Draft. Tastes like the brown ends of corn silk, plus lemon.”

“It’s[Stroh’s] marred by a rubbery slickness that leaves your tongue feeling like third-day deli ham.”

In another brilliant example of changing a cliché for a startling and hilarious effect: “Milwaukee’s Best. It’s easy to mock the Beast, but it’s all I drank in college and I turned out.”

My friend’s personal favorite, which even two weeks later he’ll remember and then start laughing again: “Olympia. This one smells a little bit like the produce section of a carpeted grocery store, but it goes down pretty smooth otherwise.”

The whole article is worth reading.  Both because of its content and language, I would say the MPAA would give an R rating, so be advised. 36 Cheap American Beers, Ranked by Will Gordon.

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