Writers: resources and tips for crafting better descriptions
Updated: Nov 24, 2019
You've heard the quote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." It's from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The saying implies that the names of things don't change what they truly are. Which is true.
However, names and words for a particular object or emotion or verb can vary—and for writers, they should.
While we don't want to pepper our writing with confusing, million-dollar-words, our writing becomes more interesting and more focused when we find different and unique ways to say the same old thing.
Sometimes we only have to strive to find a good way to paint a word picture, one that connects with the reader in a way that is personal and relatable, and gives them a sentence that has an easy reference for them.
For example, if I wrote, Catherine avoided conflict. Everyone would understand what I'm saying. But, if I worded it more carefully and added a reference they could relate to, it would make a stronger impression on the reader: Catherine avoided conflict like a toddler avoided Brussels sprouts. That's a bit more memorable, don't you think? (It's in the first chapter of my work in progress.)
Here's another example: Julie concentrated so hard on the images on her laptop that she forgot where she was. That's straightforward and easy to understand. But, I crafted that a bit differently: Reality slid away as Julie peered, spellbound, at the stock image on her laptop. The picture drew her in—obscuring the sunlight gliding across the hardwood floor, the clink of glassware, and the murmurs of the coffee shop’s late-afternoon crowd.
The more expressive words pull your reader along. It's worth the time spent to consider using different words to craft a more appealing sentence.
There are some references that you can use to find a better, more impactful way to write.
One that I've appreciated is The Synonym Find by J. I. Rodale. It's a wonderful, thick (1,361 pages!) reference book that provides an abundance of options. Check out the entry for "cultured."
What if you want your character's heart to pound? Her heart pounded, is accurate, but is that the best way to describe that visceral reaction? Was it because she was scared? Exhausted? In love? Want to get more specific? Then check out this fun article, 75+ Ways to Say "Heart Pounded." It's a word list of alternatives. (Thanks to Kathy Steinemann for the helpful post.)
This little gem gives you ideas for descriptive tags for emotions, facial expressions, body movements, physical characterizations, etc. And if you don't want to use some of the suggestions, it certainly jump-starts your creative brain and allows you to come up with a fresh phrase.
These few references are just some examples of what's out there to help writers craft more interesting sentences. I'm sure that every writer has their favorites.
But also, have fun and learn to tweak language to your advantage and to your voice. Every little bit of practice helps. Write on, friends!