In life and writing, there are many things that we naturally take for granted. For example, we expect most people to know what an orange tastes like, but what if they don't? How would you describe the taste of citrus to someone who has never tasted it before? The hurdle for a writer, in this case, is "showing" readers what citrus tastes like instead of "telling" them. This allows readers to create a more solid image in their minds instead of a vague impression. Great stories draw the reader into a mentally visible and tangible world, hence the reason for one of creative writing's main mantras: show, don't tell.
Not long ago, National Public Radio ran a story on an unusual fruit called a "pawpaw." While the reporter did a great job of giving a sense of place by playing clips of background noises as the reporter followed her guide through the woods to a nearby pawpaw tree, she didn't really give a very detailed description of the fruit. Sure, she described the taste and the fact that it has a large seed, but the listener was never really offered a clear idea of what the fruit looks like. Having never seen a pawpaw before, I found myself wondering exactly what it would look like if I came across one in the woods. After coming up with several unusual images, I began thinking about fruits that we see in everyday life.
If someone has never seen an apple before, how would you describe it? What about a banana, or a pear? There might even be a fruit or vegetable native to your region of the world that many people have never seen or even heard of. What would you compare it to? How would you describe the taste, the touch, the scent to someone who's never experienced it before? How would you "show" instead of "tell"? And that brings us to today's creative writing exercise:
Exercise: A berry nice description...
It's early morning and the mist is just starting to fade in the waist-high fields of grass and underbrush around you. You're all set for a nice long walk in the tranquility of the woods. About two hours into your walk, you stop to rest. As you pause, you casually take in the scenery and suddenly notice a very unusual-looking fruit lying just to the side of the path. You pick it up and examine it, then glance around to see where it came from. A quick scan shows that they're growing on a nearby tree, and from the look of the happy and fat squirrels scurrying around nearby, it's possible that the fruit is edible.
In a few lines, show us the fruit you found. What does it look like? Smell like? Feel like? Would you taste it? What does the tree look like that it's growing from? What would you compare it to - another fruit or something entirely different? Did you expect to find something like it growing here? If it's a new fruit entirely, what would you name it? Allow your imagination to blossom!
Kristin is a content media coordinator with CreateSpace. She draws from a strong background in journalism and creative writing to help authors hone their skills and flex their artistic muscles.
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