Writing Exercise: In As Few Words…

A long time ago, I wrote an exercise in which the object of the game was to find something and describe it in as minute detail as possible, in order to learn how to see things at the minute, mundane level. I pointed out then that the results of this exercise really weren’t meant to go in people’s writing; the idea was just to get people to notice how interesting the small details can be.

But what about the other extreme—avoiding having to deal with description so long it causes the audience to doze off before they’ve gotten anywhere near what you’re trying to get across? Good though it is to be able to see the interesting in everything, preventing description from eating the rest of the scene doesn’t really fit with the detail-by-detail approach.

So instead, we have the opposite exercise. Find yourself a picture. Any picture. The source doesn’t matter all that much, though on average you’re better off with photographs or other people’s sketches, since you have to actually think about those. Look at it for a bit, then try to describe it in as few words as possible. You can use any trick you like, you can be as selective as you want, just keep it concise.

If you’re looking for more, there are two directions you can go in.

First, you can stay on the same picture. Take a shot again, and see if you can get it any more concise. Or try limiting yourself; choose a fictional world, and see if you can describe it in their terms (specific character voice optional but another potential challenge). Or try emphasizing a different feature, or trying to portray it in a different mood. You’d be amazed at how many different ways one picture can come across.

On the other hand, there are advantages to moving on to different pictures. Once you’ve done a few, it can be interesting to look back and see what sorts of aspects you tend to emphasize. Is there a mood or a type of feature that you always seem to come back to? Do you favor color, structure, points of contrast? There’s plenty of room for self-analysis.

Grab a picture and have some fun!

1 comment

  1. UZ says:

    Decked out in his flashiest outfit, Spider tried to make a grand entrance, but stumbled sideways off the rock. How embarrassing for Spider!


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