Occasionally, in conversations with some Worthy Aspirer, I will be asked about the mechanics of description. Specifically, how does one make something vivid? Being easily distracted, it is not hard for me to quickly frog my way into bigger discussions about the nature of metaphor or vicarious experience or even the nature of knowledge itself. Not that I really know anything about these things, but how hard is it to speculate and wonder aloud? I do think such meta-topics are important, but kicking them around isn’t always immediately and practically helpful to someone trying to describe a country road or a lonely dog.
So here is today’s (or perhaps, tomonth’s) hot tip, and please bear in mind that I most likely stole it from someone else who deserves (but is not receiving) credit. Do not slip into writing for the mind and the mind alone. In other words, do not play merely upon our abilitiy to reason. And do not focus only on visuals. Write for the whole person. Write for the body. Or try to.
When we say something was vivid, we mean that we felt it. We tasted it, heard it, saw it, smelt (or smelted) it. We have five senses (at least). Access them. Access your readers’ sensual memories (and you know what I don’t mean). Make your characters all the way human and put us all the way in their shoes. Then we can tell if those shoes are hot and moist, too tight, or too loose. We can tell if the ground is rough and hard or sponge-turfy. Don’t feel the need to be encyclopedic (yes, yes, show don’t tell). As you move through a scene, reveal small things to the different senses, and don’t be surprised when a reader says they can feel it.
This is simplistic, but it is a starting point. Aim for the whole person. Aim for the downy hair between the shoulder blades and the grinding joints. Aim for the throat and the diaphram and the stomach. Make people nervous, breathless, and hungry. Or just mad.