Last Monday I was running some writing workshops at the Leominster Festival. This year’s theme was Nature and Landscapes, and one of my workshops looked at how writers can draw inspiration from the landscape around us.
It’s an area of writing that interests me greatly at present, and so I purposely take time to stop and note the smaller things around me. As a photographer I love landscapes: huge vistas of mountains dominating a skyline. But our landscape comprises smaller details too. Every mountain has its own geology, flora and fauna. Every field has its own flowers, grasses and insects. Every leaf has its own skeletal structure, texture and colour.
During the workshop one of the delegates mentioned that she marvelled at the way nature writers describe everything they see and witness. How do they come up with such fascinating adjectives, similes and metaphors? The answer is simple: describe what you see … but zoom in on the detail. Then you see more.
During the workshop we went off for a short walk and came across a field of buttercups.
“Describe what you see,” I suggested.
“Sunshine reflectors,” said one.
“Yellow-petalled saucers,” said someone else.
And these were valid descriptions from our standing viewpoints. But then I suggested everyone should get down on their hands and knees and take a closer look. (Which, admittedly, was easier said than done, for some.)
“I never knew that before,” someone exclaimed. “Five petals on each flower.”
“Look how shiny they are,” came another observation. “The sheen is just like nail varnish.”
There was a giggle. “It would be a lovely colour for your toenails! Such a joyful colour. It reminds me of summer sunrises.”
And then there was gasp. “That’s it! Five petals. Each flower represents a foot: each petal, a toenail. Here we have a field of yellow-painted toenails reflecting the joyous summer sunrise.”
I smiled. They’d found the detail, which had inspired a more interesting description. Never again will they see a field of yellow buttercups. They’ll always be painted toenails from now on.
We don’t need to overload our descriptions with such minuscule observations. But one or two, that cause the reader to stop and think, can really lift the interest in your writing. And it can work in fiction as well as non-fiction too.
So next time you feel your description feels a little lacklustre and distant, why not get closer and really scrutinise what it is you’re looking at. Perhaps it’ll open up a whole new world of description to you.