Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Making Sense in Description

I went to Spain a few years ago and wandered the streets of Barcelona. Ancient buildings crowded the warren of cobbled alleyways. I could hear someone playing a flamenco guitar in the distance. Lilting notes drifted through the space and seemed to dance with the wafts of freshly baked bread. I felt like I’d walked into a living, breathing slice of history.

I took copious photos but none caught the essence of Barcelona. Photos couldn’t record the sounds, or capture the shifting light. They couldn’t preserve the distinct smells or share the feelings I experienced.

This is because photos are blind to all the senses except sight.

If we only describe a place by what it looks like, then our writing will end up being as boring as having to spend hours watching someone else’s holiday snaps. We’re only able to transport our readers when we allow them to feel the place, to taste it, smell it, hear it. It’s through these senses that they can step in and live the experience with you.

Remember this when writing description, and you’ll become a Master Guide into the worlds you create.

What is it about your favourite holiday destination that you remember the most? What are the things that trigger those memories?


*I couldn't find my old photos of Barcelona so this photo is one I took in Macau, China. It's part of the Portuguese quarter so it looks surprisingly similar.

11 comments:

  1. The best memory I have (and I don't even remember which place this was at) was it being nighttime and being able to see the stars very clearly-I was really little and it all seemed so incredibly huge and it seemed odd to me that I'd never noticed how small everything was before.

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  2. So, true. I need to be so mindful of tis. All the senses are so valuable in experiencing things and then portraying that to others. Thanks friend!

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  3. Hey, Rebel, your story reminds me of the first time I saw the night sky in the country away from city lights. So AMAZING.

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  4. relating description to photos really helped me get it. i'm such a visual person that this is a flaw often found in my writing! thanks for this reminder!

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  5. Aspiring, I'm also a visual person and it took me a while to work out why photos never quite captured the essence of a place.

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  6. During a recent Alaskan cruise, we visited Hubbard's
    Glacier. Besides the incredible sight of a turquoise four-mile-long glacier, snow-capped mountains, and bobbing icebergs, I remember the thud of the ship hitting the bergs, the effervescence of the air-filled ice as it slowly dissolved, and the thunder of calving.

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  7. Bonnie, oh my goodness that sounds like such an amazing experience!

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  8. I think the taste of good food and the smell of water if I'm near some. When we went to Paris, we ate crepes everyday--I still can taste them and then it makes me think of the street of shoppes.

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  9. What a wonderful memory. Food and smells have such a huge impact on us all and are often the main trigger for memories

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  10. You wrote a gorgeous description of Barcelona bringing it to life.

    Description enriches a story so much when done right.

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  11. Thanks so much, Mary. The trick of description is including the whole experience plus knowing the balance of how much to include and when to include.

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