Monday, June 25, 2012

Writing Creatively

I’ve been a member of a writing group, the Write Sisters, for close to six years. Although we started out with 12 members, within a couple of months the group had dwindled to four determined writers. We meet once a month on a Sunday morning and constructively critique each other’s work. Surrounding myself with other writers who have a passion for writing has definitely helped me become a better writer.

One of the best writers I know happens to be a member of my writing group whose prose has an innate literary flair. Adrienne Byers is a former journalist turned lawyer by day and writer by night.  What makes her so good? The word “cliché” does not exist in her world. When you read her work, you’ll find descriptions that you won’t see any place else. Her verbs are always active and unique. Her prose entices you to feel, smell and taste a scene. I’ve asked Adrienne to share some tips on how she does it.

What advice would you give to a writer who seeks to infuse more creativity into their prose?

You must love words, period. 

1. Roll them around on your tongue, spin them. They are the conveyor belt between our mind's eye and the reader's imagination. I strive to create vibrant, striking and memorable analogies and similes in my descriptions.  It's where I feel freest to be the most creative.

2. Use (or a hard copy dictionary) to learn a new word a day; think of how that word can be woven into your story. Some words may be too arcane or unknowable to fit into your writing style; but some will become gems that you may  subconsciously later infuse into your work. 

 3. Possibly more important: Keep a thesaurus handy (yes,; and Visual Thesaurus is pretty cool),  even for the most banal words like “walk”, “look”, “ate,” “dog”, “car” – etc.  I call these the “gut-reaction” words.  The first word which comes to your mind may only be the roadmap, not the final destination. In perusing a thesaurus, you not only spy new words, but consider how a synonym, in the first concept you felt, is actually more descriptive than your gut-reaction word.  A thesaurus can help you parse through the subtle connotations and inferences of five different words which mean generally the same thing, but convey slightly different images and tone. Then you’ll move into the “feel” of what you want the reader to have…is it “he walked into the room”?  Or did he “amble” into it? And make no mistake: the more synonyms you become familiar with the larger your arsenal when writing!

 4.  Be a collector of powerful verbs.  Verbs stab. They hunt. They core. They delve.  They shape. They shift.  In one powerful movement, they can transport your description of the ordinary into its rightful territory inside your theme and deliver powerful imagery with a minimum of gab. Think of them and treasure them as your foot soldiers, around a base of well-selected adjectives and nouns, and sparingly used adverbs. Know and get to know more verbs.

5.  As writers, it’s our job to perceive and then describe the ordinary in an unordinary way. Taking a beginner’s photography class in college helped me see things like a photographer— the way a line of shadows falls through the trees at a certain time; a sleeping dog’s two rear paws jutting out of the dog-bed covers; the rippling reflection of a building mirrored in the lake. In other words, you must be observant! Use your five senses constantly, in a concerted focused exercise, as you go about your day. How would you describe that tree? Is it bent? How thick is it? What type of flowers does it have? What else could you compare the tree with? Is its bark thick and grooved like a crocodile’s back?  Stop reading this blog for two minutes, look around you, and find something common to describe. Then describe it uncommonly.

Do your creative descriptions flow naturally with no effort or do you have to sit there and think them up?

Both.  Sometimes, I'm channeling. And when I’m in the zone, I’m flowing, not picking up a dictionary, thesaurus, stopping to think or evaluate, I’m just gone—words flowing, with the scene visualized in my mind and fingers hitting the keys. Ten, 20 pages easy.  I think the more you read, the more you are exposed to and learn a wealth of writing techniques which blend into your own style and voice. I only wish I was in “channel” mode every day!!!

On the other hand, sometimes I’m stumped, staring at the computer, reaching for my Thesaurus.  I’m looking for different ways to nail a description of something—to make it snap on a sensory, thematic, and emotional level. I need to know what I want to feel and imagine—grisly, sensual, foreboding, relaxed, tense, warm, etc., then go for it.  I try never to settle for the mundane.

Any books or other resources that you would recommend?

Because I've been an avid reader of fiction, poetry and books/magazines on writing for so long, I've amassed a lot of resources!  Here are a few that pop to mind this instant; ask me tomorrow and I'd have 10 more.

  1. The Elements of Style, Strunk & White.
  2. The Careful Writer, A Modern Guide To English Usage, Bernstein
  3. The Longman Practical Stylist
  4. Keep an internet thread going to Writer’s Digest and The Writer, or better yet, subscribe. Stay motivated on how others approach writing, and what they have accomplished. The articles on writing techniques are helpful too.
  5. Read the books you want to write.  Highlight the tag lines, analogies, similes, metaphors and other components of descriptions that hit you. Analyze why they hit you and what they invoked in your imagination  The following books were helpful as a resource to me as a writer, or contain an array of highlights because of phenomenally creative description:
Stephen King’s “On Writing.”  And King's short stories, novellas and most of his novels.  Start with The Stand or It.  He's sold a gazillion books for a reason. 
Walter Mosley’s “This Year You Write Your Novel.”  And Mosley's E.Z  Rawlins series.  Superb dialogue, tone and description are always a constant.
All of the Vampire Huntress series by the late, fabulous L.A. Banks.
She could describe the most fantastical realms so that you envisioned every detail! 

     Octavia Butler – anything.  Wild Seed might be my favorite. 

     Toni Morrison – anything.  Re-read Sula and Song of Solomon. 

     Gargoyle by first-time novelist Andrew Davidson.  Astonishing.  

     Queen of Darkness, Celia Gilbert. Poetry, with compelling and imaginative

     Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.  I read the book 30 years ago. I still remember a  
     description  (and this won’t be verbatim), but: “A hand, like a starfish, appeared
     on the car’s window.” Visual stuff.  Not difficult, when you look at a starfish and
     compare it to a human hand. But visual, nonetheless. That’s what you are striving
     for—putting that image in the reader’s mind which will never be quelled, or
Adrienne Byers is a Los Angeles litigation attorney whose current creative focus is on speculative-supernatural fiction.


  1. Great suggestions, thank you for this post. I'm finding this blog to be very helpful and inspiring!

  2. Solid tips every writer can use!

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