Hello there, and thank you for listening to the writer’s resource podcast.
I am your host, Bridget A. Foster.
This episode coincides with my article on descriptive writing.
I wanted to elaborate on some of the points i made in that post.
Now, if you haven’t read the piece, i encourage you to do so.
This podcast will give you a brief overview of the article–
But there are some interesting examples in it and a robust discussion about why I think some news organizations aren’t as good at descriptive writing as others. You’ll find all of that on my website, BridgetAFoster.com. Just click on “the coach’s corner.”
Now to this discussion of descriptive writing:
Let’s begin with a quick refresher–
Descriptive writing is using every tool you have in the written word to really play to all of the senses of your audience.
So what do I mean by that?
I want you to appeal to the viewer’s sense of smell— taste— hearing— touch—- and finally sight. Now, I saved sight for last because a lot of times people rely on that one first–using images to tell the story completely. And the words are an afterthought. But the fact of the matter is, good visuals are nothing without descriptive writing. I’ll never forget the time one of my bosses made a team redo everything surrounding one story with great video!
You see, the descriptive writing just wasn’t there to accompany that incredible video! And he was absolutely right! We, as a station, had written the story in such a mundane, routine way when there was nothing routine about this story or the images. But our writing brought the whole thing down. So you can see the importance of descriptive writing. Let’s listen to a bit of it from one of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
That was “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. I want to talk about something specifically she does. In my article, I mention giving a concept some context, making it relatable. Let me explain that. Angelou did that so well, with her passage “Just like moon and like suns, with the certainty of tides…” She makes it painfully clear to us that she will rise by making her certainty about that relatable to something we know – the moon and sun and tides are all things with which we have intimate knowledge. This is especially important to do with things that are unfamiliar to your audience members. Relate it to something they understand. For example, “It’s enough water to fill 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.” Or “It’s longer than five football fields.” Those are things I can relate to and understand.
Getting back to Maya Angelou now… the other thing she does is use metaphors and similes effectively as I advised you to do in my article. “Shoulders falling down like teardrops…” We know what teardrops look like. Her use of this simile helps us be able to close our eyes and see those drooping shoulders. It also creates the imagery of someone broken, sad, disillusioned …
Now, let me expand on some of the other things I only briefly mentioned in the article that will help you with your descriptive writing.
Watch. Your. Video.
This should go without saying, but I can’t tell you how many people say to me “I didn’t look at the video.” Many times, that is the story. If you haven’t seen the video, you are missing out on key details.
This next piece of advice is so cliché, but very much necessary — I want you to think outside the box–get creative. Back to my example of when one of my stations missed the mark and had to redo all of the writing for some incredible video. Had we been thinking outside the box and thinking about how dynamic the story was, we would have never had presented it in such a drab way. We would have innovated ways to write that more effectively.
Finally, in the article, I mentioned putting yourself into the story. But what did I mean by that? We’ll talk more about this in the “emotion in writing” podcast, but I mean imagine if you were in the story. What would you be seeing, feeling, thinking, hearing? Don’t invent things, but this draws out your empathy and forces you to think differently about what you’re writing. It’s guaranteed to conjure up some innovative approaches to descriptive writing.
I hope you try some of these techniques.
Again, the companion piece to this podcast is on my website, BridgetAFoster.com. Just click on “The Coach’s Corner.”
For the Writer’s Resource Podcast, I’m Bridget Foster … and remember great writing takes practice. Write now and write often.