Energizing Descriptive Writing

Regardless of whether you’re a professional or amateur writer, the most challenging part of a day of wordsmithing may be facing a blank piece of paper, or an empty page on your monitor’s screen 
Writing Tips
The Art and Science of Writing
It may be surprising to you, but despite our electronic age, there are still writers who begin each project with hardcopy composition.  If this authoring strategy produces effective prose, it’s hard to argue with their writing process.  It’s all a question of the results that come from one’s practice of the art of communication.  In both fiction and non-fiction, when the writer’s inspiration produces a rich palette of words that maximizes their reader’s experience, their methods have been successful!

Regardless of your wordsmithing process, on days when you feel lacking in creativity and even editorial direction, I suggest you begin by capturing the images that first come to your mind as you contemplate the scope and goals of your project.  Work without concern for the structure of language, correct grammar, or the sequence in which the words emerge.  Within a short while, you should find yourself producing an unstoppable stream of verbiage. 

As your pace slows, you can pause to write a brief outline of your work to that point.  Confident that you will not lose direction, glance over your creative output for patterns within the images, dialogue, and activity that you have produced.  You can then begin empowering your words by strengthening the connectivity of fragmented text.

You should then be able to move back and forth between the creative and editorial processes fairly easily.  I stress the first category—creativity—because writers often lose images they have glimpsed by becoming too absorbed in initial self-editing.  Remember, editing can always be accomplished at a future time.  But if you lose your inspired thoughts, they may never be retrieved…or built upon as you initially envisioned.

Experienced authors often have an established writer’s voice on which they can draw.  This is true whether they are writing the fourth book in a series, or constructing a non-fiction piece reflecting their true voice and personality.  Whether you are in this position, or creating a wholly new voice, you may wish to take a few moments and reflect on the tone, sophistication of vocabulary, structure of language that is most appropriate to the current work, and images that will enhance the sensory experience of your audience.  [Pease note that I am referring to your voice as the teller of facts or a story, not the voices of any characters you may be creating.]

With these elements in mind, you can enter the realm of refining the vocabulary and organization of your piece.  As usual, I suggest you begin with the most obvious edits.  Personally, I have a tendency to employ overly complex sentence structure that begs immediate trimming.  Another pattern that many of us face is the need to flip first and last clauses, sentences, and even paragraphs.  Like everything else, practice makes better, if not perfect, form.  By the time you’ve reached the end of a couple of sections, your structure should have tightened with increasing clarity.
Writer’s Guidelines
My Editorial Process
Sometimes in the midst of mundane edits, I have a sense of the truly impactful changes I wish to make.  If working in hardcopy (often late at night in the midst of classic films or predictable episodes of television mystery shows), I’ll make marginal notes regarding a character’s appearance, vocabulary, motivations, or inner thoughts regarding other characters.  [This has proven especially important when working on books subsequent to Prospect for Murder in the continuing Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.] And when at the computer, I may utilize small sticky notes to record my ideas.

With obvious adjustments to structure complete, I move within the piece to maximize its overall flow and tone.  I usually begin by modifying nouns and adjectives.  In a previous blog on color theory [see Design Dilemmas for Authors, Part 3:  Color, May 30, 2015], I discussed various words that might be used in place of the word blue to enhance your color palette

Facilitating Communication
Likewise, consider how you might embellish a scene referring to a red sofa.  While inappropriate for a children’s picture book (and most contemporary fiction), the author of a dramatic historical novel might say, “The heroine entered the study nervously and perched on the garnet colored velvet chaise lounge.”  Here I wish the reader to feel wooed by the distinctive color, texture and shape of a piece of furniture. 

In my own writing, I frequently draw on the breadth of my writer’s palette to concisely depict the ambiance of a scene.  For example, “She heard the sharp sound of a gunshot” became “She was startled by the sharp report of a bullet slicing the air.”  Here I turned a matter-of-fact incident report to a description of my character’s response, which allows the reader to join in the heroine’s frightening experience which will enable your reader to feel they are present at the scene…and who knows how that may prove useful if your piece were to be converted to a script for a movie or television show.
Impactful Advertising Messages
Altering Punctuation
Consider the following examples of shifting vocabulary, word sequence, and punctuation that can alter a reader’s interpretation of a passage within commercial as well as fictional text:

Experience the unique luxury of a journey to the Orient aboard the majestic RMS Empress of Britain.  [Advertising copy similar to posters for the ship’s 1932 world cruise]

I journeyed from Hong Kong to Honolulu aboard the RMS Empress of Britain.  [A matter of fact statement appropriate for any type of writing]

Truly…I did enjoy my trip aboard the RMS Empress of Britain.  [A plea to be believed; perhaps for the dénouement of a murder mystery]

I immensely enjoyed my sojourn from Hong Kong to Honolulu aboard the luxurious RMS Empress of Britain.  [An elegant, almost fussy statement, appropriate to a romance novel]

There are many ways to strengthen your writer’s voice for each project you undertake.  Reading other works in the same genre by authors you like and dislike will provide examples to emulate, as well as to reject in your own work.  There are also reference materials that will broaden your ability to describe people and occurrences in an articulate manner appropriate to your genre.  You might begin by perusing your own reference library to ensure you have:  A couple of grammar-cramming style books such as The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook, which are standards.  You will also want to have a thesaurus or two, and a few dictionaries, including ones for foreign words or phrases you might use. 

Rich Palette of Images
Beyond these basics, consider how you can use Internet search engines and other materials.  One of the most interesting sources I’ve found is obituaries [see Shopping for Characters, May 12, 2015].  This is a great place to find physical descriptions of people, and to discover comprehensive biographic images and sometimes even the settings through which men and women of past generations walked.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

Design Dilemmas For Authors, #3, Color

Rainbows of Color

There are many perspectives on the use of color in the art and science of writing.  But even if I were an expert, this short space wouldn’t allow a comprehensive discussion of color theory [the traditional theory for mixing three primary colors to derive all other colors] or colorimetry [analysis of human color perception]. 

Variables in Color Perception.  Most people can see three distinct ranges of color.  Due to genetics, some women [called tetrachromats] are able to see four ranges of color.   Sometimes a temporary inability to see some or all color is caused by illness, allergies, medication, or hormone replacement therapy.  Even sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] may notice a decrease in perception of color.  And, did you know that one out of twelve men and one out of two hundred women have color vision deficiencies? 

Choosing Color Palettes For Artwork to Accompany Text.   As discussed in my blog on engaging a reader’s senses, I believe that analysis of one’s genre provides the answer to many publishing questions and can help solidify authoring strategies.  Empowering your words as an author can take many forms.  One author I know brings a minimalist approach to her creative process in selecting art for a children’s book.  She believes that faint sketches without full form, shape, or color will encourage children listening to or reading her prose to bring images from their own minds to their reading experience.  This minimalist approach may be ideal for poetry and historical fiction.  However, it would be at odds with the hardnosed writer’s voice usually employed in a police procedural and would lack clarity for many non-fiction projects.
Art and Science of Writing
While minimalism is a specific art movement, the term may be used generically to describe the overall expression of modern art in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Beyond an escape from classic realism, modern art focuses on the artist’s desire to interact with the minds and life experiences of his or her audience members.

Consider More Than Personal Preferences When Selecting Color.  If you are new to wordsmithing, you may not be thinking about branding.  But you might want to consider establishing the foundations of the brand for which your writing will be noted someday.  And just as an effective editorial process dictates that writers carefully select modifiers to create a scene rich in sensory images, a distinctive color palette can be one element in a design aesthetic that harmonizes with and even intensifies the impact of text.
Writers’ Guidelines
Beyond technical research you conduct regarding coloration, there are several issues to consider.  Does the style of your writing reflect your taste in art?  Do you like the detail of classism or the sharp clean lines of modern art?  Are you drawn to bright primary colors or muted subtle tones?  Do the peach and aqua tones of a sunset in the Southwest reflect your taste and your work? 

Regional Coloration.  Differences in regional color can be indicated by the dialect[s] of your characters, as well as the scenes you describe.  Growing up in Oregon, I was accustomed to the dark green of Douglas fir trees and the mosses that grow on them.  The palm trees in Hawai`i are pale in comparison.  In Arizona the array of green is mixed, depending on topography, season and the amount of rainfall.  So which green would be most appropriate to your project?

The Juncture Of Style And Color.    In children’s books, hard-edged cartoon-like solid color images (like those a child might create) may be ideal.  But regardless of the style of art you select, the bright saturated colors associated with modern art are popular with and stimulating for young children.  Conversely, the sometimes dark tones of animè lend a sophisticated note to projects for both adults and older children.  For most genres, classic realism is appropriate.  To present images realistically, considerable detail and subtleties of color are usually required.

Articulating Your Artistic Vision is vital.  Since it is unlikely that you will be the artist shaping the images that will highlight your writing, you must be able to describe your desires to whoever is in charge of publication.  I suggest writing a paragraph outlining the specific elements you are seeking.  As with a journalistic endeavor, an inverted pyramid structure is useful.  Begin with an overview of the style you desire and then move on to specific issues like color.  If possible, use technical terms an artist or printer will understand.  For instance, consider specifying the tones and shades of colors you prefer. 

When viewed under varied lighting, a color’s tone [intensity of color] or shade [how bright a color is] will be perceived differently. Personally, I have found it challenging to use what I have termed a plum color in artwork for Prospect For Murder [the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series].  While my artist Yasamine June [view her work at www.yasaminejune.com] generated a wonderful color for the book jacket, subsequent applications for the audio book and some promotional materials have deviated from the color and/or tones she utilized.

Samples Of Your Preferred Palette and style will greatly aid the person executing your artistic vision.  These can be drawn from many sources:  websites; books and other printed material; fabric and clothing; pieces of art.  Consider offering the images of famous paintings.  Simply naming a type of art or an easily referenced artist will communicate your wishes.  Personally, I am drawn to the delicate images of classical Asian paintings, as well as the neo-classism of Maxfield Parish who was known for his use of saturated color.  Unfortunately, since his work ended mid-twentieth century, a young artist may be wholly unaware of his work.

You can also provide numerical descriptions of colors.  Paint Stores offer samples of colors, with numerical coding as well as alphabetical names.  Printers can provide numbers for the Pantone® colors of ink used in most hardcopy printing.  And remember that you do not have to access a graphic art program to provide the color model numeration of computer font colors.  Simply mark a section of text within a word processing program and examine the ranges of colors available under the drop down arrow for font color.

I should caution you that identifying a color is no guarantee of how a printed product will arrive at your doorstep.  Have you ever seen two editions of the same book, printed by the same company following the same instructions?  Even in hardcopy printing, variations in color can occur because of differences in batches of ink or toner, the moisture content of the paper used, and production executed on innumerable types and conditions of equipment.

A final consideration in our discussion of color printing is publication via downloading from the Internet.  If this is how your work will be published, you should consider using colors designated as “web safe.”  Again, there will be varied results in what is viewed by your readers.  If nothing else, variations in monitor settings can prevent uniformity in how myriad viewers will experience a color on your website or in your book. 

Before we leave the topic of color, let’s consider the historical and classical interpretations of color.  Some colors, like the royal purple from Tyre, Lebanon, were originally drawn from rare and precious sources.  To produce even small amounts of the Tyrian colorant, thousands of Mediterranean sea mollusks [scientific name, murex brandaris] were needed for the dyes with which luxurious garments for ancient royals were fashioned.  Another historically rare color was the crimson worn by Roman legionnaires and wealthy matrons.  Traditionally associated with power and wealth, this color was obtained from the kermes vermilio planchon, an insect that grows on the kermes oak tree [quercus coccifera] of southern Europe.  Although the means for obtaining and utilizing dyes and paints have changed dramatically through history, their inner meanings have remained linked to aspects of nature.

 Yellow and Orange – Associated with the sun and gold, these happy and bright colors are used for many attention-getting purposes.  Depending on their tone, they may be linked to base and deeply discounted items, or conversely, to the richest and most valued products.

Red – Traditionally linked to sunsets, fire, blood, Mars the planet and Mars the Roman god of war.  Red is now often associated with signature holidays like New Year’s, Christmas, and St. Valentine’s Day and certain nations like China.   This vibrant color calls attention to anything depicted in it.  It is sometimes associated with licentiousness and the concept of Satan.

Purple – Blending blue and red, this rich color is remains linked to the concepts and value of royalty, power and wealth.

Blue – In its deepest shades, blue speaks of clear waters and skies.  In many religious expressions, it is associated with holiness and purity.  This color is often utilized by financial and insurance institutions, as well as myriad industries dealing with healthcare that wish to be considered honest and dedicated to be wellbeing of their clients.

Green – Representative of health in nature, itis often used for health and environmental topics, products, and services.

White –  Reflects light and embodies the presence of all colors of light.  While many substances in nature are white, animals having pure white fur are rare, and therefore their pelts were historically associated with the power and wealth of royalty.  Once difficult to achieve in pure form, white colored clothing was often valuable regardless of the type of fabric.  The color is historically linked to purity, cleanliness, goodness, and perfection. 

Black – Absorbing all colors of light, it is actually the absence of color.  Obtained by the mixing of all primary colors, black is sometimes associated with darkness and evil in historical religious written materials.  It is an excellent background for both vibrant and subtle colors.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

For examples of sample color palettes, please visit:  https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com/color/plays_on_color.html
Additional discussion of the nature and impact of color is provided at: https://www.imaginingswordpower.com/wearing/wearing_your_brand.html.
To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com