One Easy Tip That Will Make Your Writing Richer


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When I feel like my writing looks as lazy as my fat cat, and I need to feel inspired, I reach for Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. The book perches on a shelf in my writing room, just a few feet away, its words buzzing through the dog-eared pages, singing to me, begging me to dig deeper into the layers of my story.

Natalie’s chapter titles are silly but creative, and the content in each one serves a different purpose. Today, I visit the BE SPECIFIC chapter and think of you. This chapter has a little tip that can add so much to your stories. Maybe you’re already doing this, but if you’re not maybe you will.

Let me show you.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

She reached for the flower in the window sill.

The ants marched up the tree.

The car sped down the street.

The river gurgled.

A bird hopped in the road.

There’s really nothing wrong with these sentences except they’re a little boring and rather short. But if I change one word in each sentence and make it more specific you will get a better image right away. Let me try.

She reached for the red geranium in the window sill.

The ants marched up the old oak tree.

The Jaguar sped down the street.

The Tippecanoe River gurgled.

A bluejay dug for a worm.

Can you see the objects clearer? Don’t you agree that using specific nouns instantly makes the writing richer?

Natalie Golberg says, “When we know the name of something, it brings us closer to the ground. It takes the blur out of our minds; it connects us to the earth. If I walk down the street and see “dogwood,” “forsythia,” I feel more friendly toward the environment. I am noticing what is around me and can name it. It makes me more awake.”

Take a look around you each day. Learn the names of the trees in your yard, what season they bloom, when they shed their leaves. Study what’s around you, learn specific names of cars, cheese, dogs, plants, flowers, and use them in your writing.

Leave me your SPECIFIC noun example in the comment section. And check out Natalie’s book and her website. Maybe you’ll get invited to join her in Paris at her next writing retreat.

 

 

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Comments

  1. I read it years ago. It is a classic. It sounds like you are connected and tuned in to the best resources out there. Good stuff. Keep it up.

  2. Great tip. When I do workshops about writing, I always use an example from my short story Blood Kin at http://ptbradley.com/blood-kin/ . In the story I use the line: Will Benton sank back in the recliner.
    Then I go on to point out I could have said The man sat in a chair, and they get it. 🙂 Love your blog!!

  3. Joann Claypoole says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Michelle. Her book is a classic. We used it in one of our local writing workshops several years ago. Time to grab it off the dusty shelf, and read it with fresh expectations for better writing!

  4. Juli says:

    How can this apply to fantasy? My world does not have oak trees, geraniums, etc. I want to be specific in my sentences, but i don’t want to overwhelm the reader with new words that have to be described in order to be understood.

    • Hi Juli –
      Great question!
      Could you use nouns/visuals that readers instantly can “see” in describing your scenes? Like, “Her hair was the color of a geranium” or “The fairy twinkled as loud as a strobe light?” Use images that readers can identify with. I don’t know what your world is like, but I would think if you could compare certain features with ones we are all familiar with it will make them instantly more visual. Does that help?

      On the other hand, this might not help if your characters have never been to Earth and you’re writing from their pov. How could they know what a geranium is? Hmm, this makes for an interesting dilemma, doesn’t it? In that case, you can only show the reader what your character sees through their world. You wouldn’t be able to compare it to an “earthly” thing. Instead of using our world nouns, make your own world’s nouns and describe the person, place or thing in a way that the reader can see them so the next time you mention it in your story they can visualize it right away. You will have to take a walk in your “fantasy” world and identify make-believe objects, know when they’re in season, know their color, taste, textures, smells, and their “magic.” And be consistent. Your world will be different, but once you set the stage initially the reader will be able to identify with those nouns later when they’re mentioned.

      Let me know if that helps. I write a little supernatural YA but it’s in this world–way different from what you’re writing. I go to writer’s group tonight with a group of fantasy writers. I will ask them for additional input.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your questions.

      M

      • Thank you! This will help. Although, I’m still struggling with having to give so much information that the story is getting lost. Maybe I shouldn’t have so many new types of things. 🙂

        • Hi Jull – I talked to my fantasy writer friends at writer’s group about you last night. It was a lengthy discussion! This is NOT an easy thing to do with a whole new world.

          They agreed that adding a whole new world is difficult because writers have a tendency to describe way too much right away hoping the reader understands, but what happens is that the story gets lost. I think that’s what you’re worried about. Am I right?

          Do you have a favorite fantasy author? Can you dissect his/her novel and take note on how they trickle the description in? Pick and choose which things in your world are needed to be known right away and add little bits of description, not dumping all of it at one time. If you get into showing the story happen and describe as you go it might help.

          When you’re writing your first draft don’t look back and critique. Just keep writing to flush out the story, even if it’s info-dumping. You’ll have time later to go back and delete some of that and add the storyworld you need. THe main thing is to not stop writing. Flush out the story first.

          Maybe you could write the story as if the reader can see most things? Then go back and add the storyworld. As long as you see the world in your mind eventually your readers will too. Don’t try too hard to show it at first. Remember–no one is going to see your first draft but you.

          Give yourself permission to write it the best way you know how. Many times authors end up deleting the first 4 chapters later anyway.

          Keep writing.
          Hugs and good luck!
          M

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