Quotes on description

What writers and others say

Quotes on description


“Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experiences. Hit a tripwire of smell, and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.”
— Diane Ackerman, author, A Natural History of the Senses

“When we say, ‘I see,’ we most often mean, ‘I understand.’”
— Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar, The Poynter Institute, in Writing Tools

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”
— Helen Keller, deaf and blind American author and activist

Quotes on description


“Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was ‘terrible,’ describe it so that we’ll be terrified.”
— C.S. Lewis, novelist

“Smell may be the most evocative of the five senses but I defy you to find any in news stories, even the food pages.”
— Chip Scanlan, senior faculty-writing, The Poynter Institute

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
— Henry David Thoreau, American author and philosopher
  • Paint Pictures In Your Readers’ Minds

    Make their brains light up

    Think of description as virtual reality:

    Paint Pictures In Your Readers’ Heads: Make their brains light up

    • Describe a scent, and your readers’ primary olfactory cortexes light up.
    • Describe texture, and you activate their sensory cortexes.
    • Describe kicking, and not only do you stimulate their motor cortexes, but you stimulate the part of the motor cortex responsible for leg action.

    But write abstractly — aka, the way we usually do in business communications — and readers’ brains remain dark.

    Want to stimulate some brain activity around, say, your CEO’s latest strategy or that brilliant Whatzit you’ll be releasing later this month? Description is the answer.

    At Master the Art of the Storyteller — our two-day hands-on creative-writing master class on July 25-26 in Portland — you’ll learn to make your readers’ brains light up with description. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Dig up descriptive details: Try WBHA, the most overlooked reporting tool there is.
    • Tune in to sensory information: Use our travel writer’s tip for going beyond visual description.
    • Communicate, don’t decorate: Use this tip to avoid stimulating readers’ gag reflexes instead of their cerebral cortexes.

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