Our vision is often something we take for granted as writers and in some ways, it’s underused as we go for the perfunctory. It is easy to fall into a trap of mundane description: “the grass was long and green. In the background, the grey mountains were snow capped”. Simple and effective but not very interesting. Nobody really wants to read such uninspired and passionless prose, and that’s why we have to paint images with our words. We are artists after all.
There are a number of ways we can add colour to our description. Is the grass still? Which direction is it blowing? Is the grass long pasture or short and grazed? What colour is it? If it is green, what shade of green? This is standard stuff but in illustrating our writing we need to be a bit more flexible. When it’s windy, we can say the grass dances in the wind to explain its motion. When describing mountains covered in snow we can say it is “a blanket” or when light, it’s more like “a sprinkle”; both present specific information on what the landscape looks like in using language relating to other things.
What about clouds? They are not just there – are they wispy, fluffy, billowy or angry? There are so many words to describe the same landscape. Such vivid imagery can enhance the reader’s experience and present not just the landscape but also the setting, the weather conditions, the time of day and even the season – the picture to the left is from Dartmoor, taken roughly October 2004. A very good spring day but the conditions could have been wildly different as the climate there can turn on a penny. The language I would use for this picture would differ vastly than if it was chucking it down with rain.
Using Words to Convey Features – Similes and Metaphors
These are common plot devices in literature and most of us use them in our writing. A simile is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things, often introduced with the words “like” or “as”.
- The sun was high in the sky, sparkling like a brilliant gem and lighting the landscape (brilliant gem being the simile)
- Snow covered the landscape like a blanket (blanket being the simile)
- As she entered the bar, men gravitated towards her like bees to a honeypot (bees to a honeypot being the simile)
- Usain Bolt runs as fast as lightning (no, he doesn’t, but the comparison is a simile)
- Cute as a button
- Brave like a lion
- As strong as an ox
That’s similes. The other narrative device is the metaphor. This is an analogy between two objects or ideas, conveyed by the use of one word instead of another, removing the literal description and using comparative language.
Using some of the examples above.
- A brilliant jewel hung in the sky, illuminating the landscape (describing the sun as a jewel is a metaphor)
- A blanket of white covered the landscape (the snow is not like a blanket, it is described as a blanket when in metaphor form)
- The men in the bar were drawn to the waterfall of flame red that cascaded down one side of her face (waterfall)
- Don’t be a chicken
- The wind tore angrily through the trees (angrily being the metaphor as the wind cannot be angry)
- I’m a little blue today
It’s important to remember not to get bogged down in every small detail but to give enough information that a reader can immerse themselves in the world you have created.