What is this a picture of?
Now, you might say trees, which is correct. You might say a meadow, which is not quite correct. You might even say water (though I can’t image why) which is also, oddly, correct. Lastly, you could say “A carpet of red and green plants on top of the water at Merchants Millpond State Park in NC, which, in the summer, can look like a lost scene from ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ — but that’s quite a mouthful. Which brings us the today’s topic:
How Do You Describe a Thing?
Say a bookish, wordy thing, that you’d like people to not only buy but come to love, cuddle, carry around on most weekdays, and speak dreamily of for the next 50 years because it is the central tile to the mosaic of their lives and OH MY GOSH, WHAT IF THEY’D NEVER READ THAT GREAT DESCRIPTION AND HAD TO BUY IT??? Or, even worse, what if the description hadn’t told them what the book was really like?
And, as in the picture above, everything in this odd, descriptive realm is not always what it seems. Now, let’s look at the first of a few common misapprehensions (all mine at one time or another) —
Descriptions Are Easy
I think this confusion comes from three sources — very good descriptions, unnecessary descriptions, and simple ones.
- The very goods ones are probably burned in your memory, they inspired you to read that greatest book or they are the creme de la creme of what’s out now — the bestselling books, the biggest movies.
- The unnecessary ones are for the things that are already huge and you probably don’t really need to know much about. I was shocked that when I looked at some bestselling fantasy on Amazon, the newest books in successful series did not have that great of descriptions — but then, all they need to say is “the fifth book in the New York Times bestselling series . . .” and they’re golden, or at least a lot closer than the unknown book.
- Now simple descriptions are the one that get you — because we all are using them every day and we use them well. “Todd’s my boyfriend.” “The new house is a great A-frame with a blue roof and giant front windows.” “You’d like Suzy; she’s Cher from ‘Clueless’ meets the Terminator.” These simple images work because 1: We all know what a boyfriend is; 2: We can see the house in enough detail to be happy for our friend (but we’re not about to buy it ourselves); and 3: This ‘taste of Suzy’ is either funny or weird, but it’s interesting, and we don’t need to be that invested. We’ll probably meet Suzy at a future party — we’re not taking a week off work to climb a mountain to speak to ‘Suzy the Guru’ . Can you imagine the description you’d need to convince someone to do that?
Next up — Descriptions are IMPOSSIBLE! and Writing a Bestselling Description.