“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
-Patrick Rothfuss, Name of the Wind
This quote took the words right out of my mouth. Words are powerful tools, and for us writers they comprise the arsenal by which we attack our readers! And by attack I mean lovingly dote on…
Each of us finds our own way to organize words; if we were all tried writing a story with the same plot points, it would result in a plethora of stories. That’s your voice. Voice can very nearly make or break a story for me. I may come across a book with a great storyline and interesting characters, but if the descriptions and voice are dull, long-winded or incomprehensible, my mind wanders and it’s hard for me to delve into the story properly.
My last blog discussed ways to avoid cliches and I’d like to now focus on how to create riveting descriptions that will help create a unique voice for yourself and help form that bond between story and reader. One of the best ways to help you with this is to list some great examples:
1- Douglas Adams
Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.
Not unnaturally, many elevators imbued with intelligence and precognition became terribly frustrated with the mindless business of going up and down, up and down, experimented briefly with the notion of going sideways, as a sort of existential protest, demanded participation in the decision-making process and finally took to squatting in basements sulking.
Adams has some very unique descriptions in his work. I wanted to showcase his talent for personification, as it’s creative and very entertaining to read. Descriptions such as these set his work apart from the crowd, almost making it a completely new genre.
2- Patrick Rothfuss (Name of the Wind)
You see, women are like fires, like flames. Some women are like candles, bright and friendly. Some are like single sparks, or embers, like fireflies for chasing on summer nights. Some are like campfires, all light and heat for a night and willing to be left after. Some women are like hearthfires, not much to look at but underneath they are all warm red coal that burns a long, long while.
I have known her longer, my smile said. True, you have been inside the circle of her arms, tasted her mouth, felt the warmth of her, and that is something I have never had. But there is a part of her that is only for me. You cannot touch it, no matter how hard you might try. And after she has left you I will still be here, making her laugh. My light shining in her. I will still be here long after she has forgotten your name.
Rothfuss has a very romantic way of describing things. I did pick a couple quotes that are of a more romantic nature, but even when he isn’t speaking of love his voice has a way of seducing you, lulling you into a place of contentment that makes you hunger for more.
3- J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)
Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.
All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this forever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.
There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be forever barred.
Peter Pan is my favorite book, so yes, I used three quotes. So sue me! Barrie, similar to Rothfuss, has a romantic way of wording things, yet his work is imbued with a sense of innocence. Another aspect of his work that I love is his distinct voice. The narrator (Barrie) has his own commentary scattered throughout the book, so much so that he could be classified as a character. Also, as seen in the aforementioned quotes, he has a lovely, tragic way of writing. His writing makes my heart ache, and I love it!
4- Diane Setterfield (The Thirteenth Tale)
All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes -- characters even -- caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.
My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don't expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.
Setterfield has a way of making any topic interesting to read. She could be writing about a piece of paper and I would have no choice but to be riveted by it. I don’t imagine her sitting at a desk typing, I imagine her weaving her story as a spider weaves its web. Her descriptions are rich and her voice is one that demands a reader to keep reading.
5- William Goldman (The Princess Bride)
There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C...(before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy.... Well, this one left them all behind."
"I love you,' Buttercup said. 'I know this must come as something of a surprise to you, since all I've ever done is scorn you and degrade you and taunt you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second, more. I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm. Your eyes are like that, did you know? Well they are. How many minutes ago was I? Twenty? Had I brought my feelings up to then? It doesn't matter.' Buttercup still could not look at him. The sun was rising behind her now; she could feel the heat on her back, and it gave her courage. 'I love you so much more now than twenty minutes ago that there cannot be comparison. I love you so much more now then when you opened your hovel door, there cannot be comparison.
Goldman’s writing is particularly remarkable. To describe a kiss (as seen in the first quote) in such a way is beyond anything I could ever try to write myself. His voice is filled with such sass and humor that I often find myself trying to hide the idiotic smile that comes across my face. Beyond that, he doesn’t write the story straight through; he directs many comments to the readers as the story goes along. This draws them in and creates a great bond between reader and story.
With the many examples I’ve provided to you, I hope you can take a step back and reevaluate your own writing. Take particular care when scrutinizing your descriptions and voice. You want your story to be unique so that it stands out from the rest. There are many good books out there, but you want it to be great and memorable-not just a quick read that will be forgotten somewhere within the first ten pages of a subsequent book. Study the work of authors that have given you that deep sense of appreciation for good writing, and that may have led to your decision to become a writer yourself. Those works that you feel a deep connection to may help you find your own voice and style of description. Happy writing!