What Do You See?

As a writer, how do you PRACTICE describing what you see?

Following is one of my favorite poems that illustrates deeply seeing and then portraying what the poet observes.

Nude Descending a Staircase
© 1961 by X. J. Kennedy

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.
We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.
One-woman waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long cape
and pausing on the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.
I appreciate this poem because it not only succinctly describes a nude woman walking down the stairs, it creates an imagery whereby I, as the reader, also see her.  And, in her descent of the staircase, I note the action of her walking, the movement.  This is a great feat in poetry.
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We’ve seen artists with their pencils and art journals sketching what they see.  As a writer, do you practice writing word sketches?  These word sketches can be used later on in other writing that you do or to simply facilitate your ability to observe.  Either way, it’s not time wasted.
Writing Prompt:
Here’s  fun exercise.  Take yourself outdoors to a park bench and sit with your pen, a  journal and notice people, your surroundings, the array of dogs?  Find the precise words to describe the flowers, trees, any movement.  What adjectives or metaphors come to mind as you allow yourself to really see someone or something?  Jot them down.  Practice doing a word sketch…or several.
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Thank you to X.J. Kennedy for permission to print his poem.
“From In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems (Johns Hopkins University Press), copyright 2007 by X. J. Kennedy.  By permission of the author.”

Smile…It’s Simile Time

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We’ve talked about image detail, right?  It is supported by well-chosen adjectives…ones that have sensory appeal.  Image detail, character description and action in a story are also enhanced through the effective use of simile and/or metaphor.  Let’s begin with simile.

Simile is an effective creative writing tool falling under the general heading of Figurative Language or Imagery.  According to author/poet, Frances Mayes, from her book The Discovery of Poetry, “A figurative image establishes connections between things we normally would not associate.”  It is “an explicit equation…using the words like, as, as if” to make comparisons. For example, we’ve all heard the similes “hungry as a horse,” or “timid as a mouse.” These are similes and they are also clichés. Clichés are oft-repeated, overused similes. You want to avoid clichés. Inventing original and effective similes is a fun art.

WRITING PROMPT:
What is a predominant feeling for you today?  If nothing comes to mind, borrow one from your experience…like being in love, or feeling angry or happy, tired or weepy.

Practice writing at least half a page of original similes emanating from your feeling. If your feeling is anger–“she was as angry as a disturbed hornet’s nest”. If the feeling is love, “she was in love like a bear with her fist in a honey pot.” Don’t forget to include the words like or as or as if in your simile.

Work with only one feeling…and that way you can get fully into the swing of both your feeling and writing your similes.  One day, I was feeling very angry and I wrote a full page of similes expressing what my anger felt like.  By the time I got to the bottom of the page, I was laughing.  I felt very clever having come up with so many original similes and I shifted the energy of anger in a creative way.

See what happens for you as you try this one out.
Have fun!