“What’s That Doing Here?” The art of description

It happens every, no I mean really, every year: Candy canes hanging around until at least Easter. Why? Because I have a hard time throwing away perfectly good candy. I have visions of peppermint bark in the middle of the summer or a sprinkle of crushed candy in my natural peppermint tea.
I’ve tried buying less, or buying none at all but invariably Christmas just doesn’t seem complete without a few candy canes hanging around. Not to mention that I wax nostalgic every time I see them since they used to be my son’s favorite. Back in the day if I brought home a box his face would light up like it was treasure. One year I gave him one of those giant candy canes. He was so excited when he unwrapped it. I found it months later rolled under his bed with all kinds of fuzz stuck to it. I think that was the end of the candy cane era for him, erased by peppermint overload.
Why do I make this confession? Because as I look at the bowl of Christmas candy while the weather warms and colors turn pastel everywhere, it is clear to me it is very much out of place. My attention is sharp with the contrast. That my friends is a great tool in writing; the unexpected, the incongruent, objects that elicit an instant understanding or emotion.
For example:
“She saw the bowl of candy canes on the coffee table, the dry, prickly tree festooned with strings of shriveled cranberries and desiccated popcorn but it was the unopened gifts under the tree that broke Anne down to tears.”
I don’t have to say, the room was frozen at Christmas Day. I don’t even have to mention Christmas.
Use something memorable, outrageous, more than Christmas décor in the Spring. For example, the first thing a character sees is a stuffed moose in the living room of her new boyfriend’s parent’s house. What does that say about his family? What does it not say? With a brief description a whole lot of information is conveyed with great word economy. It starts with knowing what you want to convey about the surroundings. In a natural setting, to create peace instead of, “gentle winds, fluffy clouds, birds singing” , “a hillside with the gentle curves of a sleeping baby.” If the intent is danger instead of a “dark stormy sky, scorpions skittering and misty air”, “rising up like a citadel, six foot black rocks, teeth ready to bite.”
In the home of very wealthy people instead of swinging the camera lens around and describing all the paintings, the marble floor, the Persian rugs, find that one thing that is the epitome of wealth and zoom in on that. For example, enter the foyer of an eclectic uber rich indulgent couple:
“A live tree grew straight out of the floor with branches reaching up three floors, on every twig dangled crystals, maybe diamonds. I wanted to stop right there and sit under the dazzling, embrace of this tree and that was just the foyer.”

Full disclaimer, this principle of using dramatic, memorable, but less words is not something I figured out. I was taught this concept at a conference. It was a small conference with no agents or editors! Imagine that, no pitch sessions but a whole lot of teaching. Sometimes leaving behind the rat race to get a publisher’s attention and just focusing on the craft, is the best way to go!

Writing is fun don’t you think? Be challenged! Write on!

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