November 20, 2017

Quotes on description

What writers and others say

“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

“Good reporters have a nose for news. They can sniff out a story. Smell a scandal. Give them a whiff of corruption and they’ll root it out like a pig diving for truffles.”
“If that’s true, why do so few of them take advantage of that olfactory skill in their writing?”
“Write with the senses, editors and writing teachers implore. And most of us do that, providing our readers with vivid images and resonant sounds.”
“But hunt high and low in today’s newspaper for a sense of smell and most days you’ll come up as empty as a bloodhound who’s lost the scent. Even the food pages, which one would expect to be as aromatic as a bakery before dawn, are generally odorless. Tastes abound, but smells, the scents that get the salivary juices running, are absent.”
— Chip Scanlan, senior faculty-writing, The Poynter Institute

“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


Quotes on description

“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

    Think of description as virtual reality: 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. But it’s not easy for those of us raised on the inverted pyramid and just the facts, Ma’am, to research for and write description.

    At Portland creative writing workshopMaster the Art of the Storyteller — a two-day creative writing master class on July 25-26, 2018 in Portland — 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
    • Answer the scene-writer’s question: You can’t write good description without it
    • Take on The Popcorn Project: Practice our four-step process for writing vivid description
    • Communicate, don’t decorate: Use this tip to avoid stimulating readers’ gag reflexes instead of their cerebral cortexes

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Master the Art of Storytelling Workshop in Portland


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Make Your Copy More Creative workshop? Contact Ann directly.


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