Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Describing

When describing, it is so easy to simply say what it looks like. The bare-boned facts. But what about the facts we might be missing?

Right now I’m at the library, working on various writing projects—editing, critiquing, blog posts, etc. It’s pretty straight-forward to describe. Bookshelves. Windows. Tables and chairs. That pretty much sums up this portion of the library.

Or does it?

What if I were blind? What would I say then?

Now that’s something to think about.

It smells, the library does. Very slightly pungent, a mixture of cleaners and ink, I’m guessing. And probably carpet too, since I’m sitting on the floor. The carpet is rough, though not uncomfortable. It’s covering cement if I don’t miss my guess. Outside a caretaker is doing, well, something: there is a consistent banging noise on the other side of the window. The lights and air conditioner hum softly in the background. The book-scanner beeps to my left, and from that same quadrant I hear someone coughing, and the occasional footstep or squeak of a rolling cart. I lean back against the wall and feel the texture of the wallpaper against my arm. It has little lines running parallel to the floor.

What if I could see, but was deaf?

The sunlight, combined with the overhead lighting, is cheerful and calming. On the wall to my left hang two canvases, paintings of flowers and grasses and inscribed with quotes. Beneath them are two green-and-brown checkered chairs and a little table. The chairs have an almost metallic sheen to the fabric. Directly in front of me are two wooden tables and eight chairs, and beyond that, four rows of bookcases. Hundreds of books line the grey metal shelves in neat rows, the hardback copies all shiny in their plastic jackets, all different colors and all united with a white sticker smacked across the bottom portion of their spine. Behind and to both sides are windows at least seven feet tall, with four panes and wooden trim. The wallpaper is beige and green that looks almost tan from a distance. The ceiling is compose of white tiles, and the floor a multi-color Berber, a jumble of brown, tan, copper, blue, and green. I can’t see anyone from where I sit: it’s as still as a morgue.  

Did my original description accurately depict the library?
Yes. It did. If you’re into the utilitarian style.
Did my two following descriptions accurately depict the library?
Yes, they did too.
Each description holds value and importance in its own right: each gives a different picture from a different perspective.

What if all three descriptions were combined? Tastefully, of course, to avoid sensory overload.
Talk about an explosion of detail!

While I don’t claim to be an expert…this is what description is all about. You don’t toss your audience the bare bones of description, you give them the babyback ribs—the meat, what makes the bones more than just a stick of calcium deposits and marrow. While it’s more work, it’s more fun too. Really looking at a place is different than simply seeing it. Closing your eyes and really feeling, hearing, and smelling a place is different than just looking at it. 

All aspects are important, and each one helps paint a clearer picture of what it is like to physically be somewhere. 

So why  not use them all to your advantage?


  1. Loved your post!! I am deaf myself, and the way you describe the place seems to fit it to a T!
    I sometimes have a tough time on my manuscript on the hearing parts, because I have no idea what are the usual sounds for a place.
    Just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed the post!

    1. Thanks! Oh it did? That makes me happy! Ah yes I can see where that would be a problem. Do you write a lot of deaf characters?


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  3. I'm afraid my descriptions are still calcium deposits and marrow...:P

  4. This reminds me of how Laura Ingalls Wilder had to describe everything to Mary after Mary's blindness. That is probably why she does a great job with descriptions in her writing.

  5. Great post! I try to push myself into thinking like this when writing. A setting with only visual descriptions can get boring!


Thanks for taking the time to comment! Chazak Amats, and have a beautiful day.