A writers’ greatest task is to create a great reading experience, preferably a better reading experience than what the actual film or TV visual will provide. This is because, before anyone can put money on the visual, they have to read the script and have a thrilling experience. Whereas the actual film and TV have the luxury of great directing, great cinematography, sound mix, music score, great acting and so forth, which work in harmony for the sake of the script, when writing, you are all alone, with only one weapon; your words. It is therefore our responsibility to thrill the readers and make them feel the same emotions, if not a better experience. And it is possible.
I watched twelve years a slave and was deeply moved emotionally by the film. Then a year or so later I decided to read the script of the same film ‘Twelve years a slave’ I will be honest and tell you that the script moved me to more tears, it had me literally crying like a baby (no I was not PMS’ing!)Years later, I’ve still not gathered enough courage to finish reading the script because of how emotionally drained I got, and also because I live in a small apartment with my husband and two kids and there would be nowhere to hide and cry my heart out, so I decided to spare my children the agony of watching their mother ‘cry like a baby’. That experience of being completely moved by a script emotionally was a strong reminder of how powerful words, if used in a great combination. It is indeed possible to move your audience to tears and laughter with just your words as your tool of trade.
This is my desire for you as is the desire for myself, that my written words would move some serious emotions in my readers.
Some ‘To Do’s for writing great descriptions
- You’ve got to eat from the table with the masters in this craft, you have to read their scripts and books to see how the pros do it, no short cut here.
- Study poetry- I hear some groans from those of us who are not big fans of poetry, but before you put this book aside because I’m suggesting you read poetry, hear me out. Poetry in whatever language has a way with words, where complex matters like love and emotions are explained in as few words as possible. This has made poetry writers become sort of geniuses in rhythm and balance. What reading poetry does for you, is help you get your rhythm; and your word choices start sounding melodious and if it does that to you, it will to the reader. So study poetry.
- Practice writing. Being a writer means exactly that. You have to wake up each morning and write. You have to channel and schedule time for that purpose exactly or else days will come and go, you will read up lots, you will study lots but if you don’t put everything you’re learning into practice then it shall all be in vain. No more wishing you were a writer. Simply get on with it. Put in those practice hours and your writing will reward you in future.
- Read read read! I cannot over- state the importance of reading. We read for many reasons. So read for content, read for context, read to expound on your grammar and read to see how words interact on a page. You will make your life easier as a writer if you make reading one of your life’s priorities.
TIPS FOR GREAT DESCRIPTION.
- Describe your characters in interesting ways. ‘Tall, dark and handsome won’t cut it anymore, Mills and Boons overdid that a long time ago when I was still in preschool. One way to describe your characters is by giving us a hint of the character instead of a whole explanation. Example while describing a nerd, the usual cliché description would be ‘ Baraka, 20’s wears thick rimmed eye glasses. You could simply say ‘meet Baraka, a young man who’d rather hang out with computers than a hot African goddess.
- Give your location descriptions life e.g ‘A huge palace stands majestic owning the space’ When you put it this way, we immediately visualize this huge palace that has a personality, it believes in itself.
- When describing location, use a good majority of the five senses; sight, smell, touch, taste and sound; But while doing so, remember which medium you are writing for, if a script, you have to be brief and to the point, if a novel, it allows you some room for lots of flowery descriptions. For example, a sense like sight, what do we see in relation to evoking emotions? How will what we are seeing make us feel? Think about the same for the other senses.
- Let your genre dictate your description style. If you’re writing a thriller then the words, mood and tone you set should be in exactly that genre, if writing a comedy, then humour us through your description as well; meaning, comedy descriptions will be lighter and fast paced than that of thriller. If you’re writing an action adventure you better use active words that keep things moving along.
- Read your description out loud and get rid of bulky words, words that slow down your description. Ensure that your description has some rhythm to it as that gives it pace and movement.
- More white on the page is more attractive than more ink on the page. Chop those extra words. If you however find you have too much description and it all needs to be in there, then break it into paragraphs so that it doesn’t intimidate the reader.
- Polish up on your verbs and adverbs so that instead of using more words on the page such as she runs fast, you can say she bolts, it also gives your description some power.
- Most importantly do not direct actors and don’t direct the director. Let everyone earn their money. I once fell out with a producer who wanted me to describe every little detail about the actor’s movements, camera direction, he thought I was being lazy and getting paid too much, so he wanted all the details in. I tried to explain how it’s done professionally but he didn’t want to understand. Anyway over ten years later I’m still writing, he’s not producing. All I’m saying with the above rant is that, don’t micromanage the actors, DOP, Director. You are not the boss, a film/TV production is a collaboration so let the director interpret things for themselves. The only time you are allowed to direct the director is in situations where you feel there is so much subtext that they might miss out on your message, then by all means tell them what you mean but don’t do that with all your descriptions.
- On the same note, do not put in camera angles for the DOP and director. They know their jobs, that’s why they’ve been called to direct your script. Sometimes it all goes wrong during filming when directors haven’t done their homework and internalized your vision. But trust the system especially if you have no intention of becoming a director.
- Unlike novels where we can go on with internal monologues of how a character is feeling. In scripts we can’t, so you can’t tell us what the character is feeling or thinking, you have to show us.
Hope these tips help you as you work on your descriptions!
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on writing: Get Writing! A beginner’s guide from Idea to First Draft.