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Descriptive writing

by Jeanita
(Ohio)

One comment I hear a lot is that I should be using descriptive writing more than I am. But don't most people skip over description? I often do.


ANSWER

Hi Jeanita. Too much description can certainly slow the pace in writing, and this would cause readers to skip over it. Used well, however, descriptive words allow readers to better imagine the story world.

In the opening of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake, she might have written: "A pregnant woman stands at the stove in her apartment making herself a snack."

This would tell readers what was happening, but they would not find it engaging and would not remember the opening. What Lahiri actually writes, however, allows readers to see the character making her snack. They learn of the heat and the ingredients, and these sensory details bring the image to life and makes it memorable. Those readers who are familiar with the snack, and enjoy it themselves, will also have an emotional response, as the ingredients will trigger memories, longings, and understanding of this as comfort food:

On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of her Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chili pepper, wishing there were mustard oil to pour into the mix.

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