Failing to come up with things to describe should be impossible.
Really, it should be.
I mean, just sit down and elaborate on this with me. The world is made up of a diversity of biomes, with a myriad of animals that roam within these stated biomes, and 7 billion people who have spent thousands of years developing these biomes to suit their needs. Human beings have created a variety of structures ranging from, cities, towns, monuments, villages, lodges, castles, space stations, docks, ports, artificial islands, ships, cars, airplanes, skyscrapers, and a whole mouthful of other creations. Every single spot that exists on this world is in possesion of at least five unique elements that draw it apart from similar spots. No two forests are the same, no two castles are pure clones of one
another, no two citadels are a copy of on another, and not even deserts share everything in common with one another. And I haven’t even spoken of the sheer detail of a single individual.
One person can open up a whole universe of description!
How does that person walk? How does he talk? How does he fight? Does he fight at all? Is he a pacifist? How is he dressed? What kind friends does he have? What are his interests? Do they have family? Do they want to have a family? You could fill up a whole manual with a list of things that you could describe about an individual. Just one individual. Out of 7 billion, and each with different answers.
You would think that coming up with things to describe about anything should be child’s play. You literally have six Bible’s worth of information at your fingertips. But the words never come!
When you open up a laptop or a notebook, your mind has to wrestle just to find out what to say about anything! Good description, not even great description, is treated like finding a gem through an ocean of trash. But when you consider just how many things there are to describe, you’d think that good description was just another commodity to come out of our brains! But, no! You, the person that actually exists in the world, the one that can perceive the world, the one that is aware of his own existence! You’re the one that can’t think of anything to describe!
Writer’s can nearly blow their brains out just trying to find the right words for a scene. Sure, that also factors in the manner in which we express the description. Which varies from
simile, to metaphor, to anecdote, to analogy, or just saying it straight up. But this only serves to distress me more, because it only means that I have another infinity of options that I can’t figure out!
The difference between agonizing on your description and all the other frustrations that come with writing is a great deal more disparate than what you might think. When you’re not aware where your novel is going, it just means that you havent created a conclusion for it in your mind. When you make a scene that is written poorly, it means that you probably were not feeling in the best mood to write. When the ideas aren’t coming to you, it means that you just have to do some brainstorming. The good thing about these frustrations is that the answers are not right there for you to grasp. But description…ooooh, description is a separate beast.
What I loathe most about not knowing how to describe a scene is the fact that the
solution to my problem is right in front of me. Those words that you’ve been scouring your mind for are already there! You can literally walk around anywhere in order to find inspiration for your description! All you need to do is go outside for a few moments! But even when you go outside, you still can’t write the words on paper.
It’s like knowing that you have the cure to an illness that is killing you from the inside out and having a cabinet filled with vials of the antidote inside of your house. But whenever you pick up one of the vials, it slips from your grip and shatters on the floor. When you reach for another, it happens again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again!
So why does this happen to us? Why are we plagued with this hideous cancer that bugs us on a daily basis? This might seem like an issue that is easily solved, but looks can be immensely deceiving. The core of this problem is not some pragmatic stimulus to keep writing until the words just come to you. The core is philosophical, and deeply human in its nature. The problem is not that the worlds we’ve imagined into existence are too vague and in need of fleshing out (That’s only a symptom), the problem is that the way we observe the world
around us is too vague and too fleeting.
Just think about it. How many people take a moment in everyday to relax, observe, and ponder on everything that had occurred to them on that same day? Unless you’re some pretentious philosophy major, chances are that you only do that once every three months!
For most people, everyday you get up from bed and proceed with going through the motions of your own life. The thought rarely crosses our mind to view our existences from a bird’s-eye view. And this is understandable. What reason would you need to examine your daily routine when you always go through it through your own perspective. It would be impossible to be placed in the mind of another human, and unless you’re a multimillionaire, few people would be willing offer their own perspectives on everything that you do. But in real life it doesn’t matter, since we don’t have the need to describe the lives of others.
But in writing, this ability is imperative.
When we write characters in their own little microcosm, the sheer volume of the task we undertake often goes unnoticed. When you write, especially in secondary worlds, you are going to be doing everything (and more) that is written on the following list.
- Describe a world from another perspective.
- Describe a world.
- Describe a world that doesn’t exist
- Describe people’s reactions to this world.
- Describe people’s routines in this world.
- Describe the biomes of this world.
- Describe the societies of this world.
- Describe cultural norms invented by you.
- Describe how these same norms are subverted.
- Describe how things occur.
- Describe the history of individual places.
- Describe character’s feelings to one another
- Describe how each of the objects above intertwine and interact with one another.
- (A lot…LOT more)
Are we insane!? We have trouble describing even one of these things in the world that we already belong to! And as writer’s we’re expected to describe them all? At the same time!? In a world that might not even exist!?!?
We are so unaccustomed to examining the world around us, that when we’re presented to the alternative pocket dimensions that our stories take place in, our minds explode with all the possible information. We have so many options with what direction we wish to take our description, that one could argue that we have too many! We are outsiders that are expected to give a clearer picture of a world that we invented than the very world that
we already live in.
Even the best description that could be found in novels will only ever scratch the surface of the layers of complexity that lie therein. Only a small fraction of reality can be grasped by our brains and be transformed into descriptive text. But our minds process the big picture of our worlds, leading our brains to be overloaded with information, and ultimately, short-circuit. Leaving us with no idea on how to start describing our worlds.
But we shouldn’t despair in this, in truth, we should relish it.
Take pleasure in the fact that you’ll never be able to know everything that’s happening or could be happening in your world. Take pleasure that the world you crafted goes far beyond your imagination. The most sublime prose always has an element of mystery that could reach even mystical levels. With every sentence, paragraph, bad, average, good, or masterful, there will always be an aspect that we could never hope to comprehend. A detail that has sneaked past detection. A piece of description, that is just waiting to be written.
This has been the QuestingAuthor, and as always, keep writing.