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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Article: Description: the Element of Every Great Story

by Gina Sares

When I was in the 7th grade, I learned the secret to great writing. It had nothing to do with syntax, vocabulary, sentence structure or tone. The secret was one word; one single, solitary command to be adhered to like a strict diet if you ever wanted to be a great writer. The word? Describe. 
If I learned everything perfectly the first time around, I guess I wouldn't have needed all those extra books and English classes that consumed my time throughout high school and college. But, at 13, I didn't quite understand the importance of my teacher's words when she said, "Don't tell me; show me." That, right there, is the key to great writing.  
At some time, all of us have heard someone tell a great story. We have sat straight up in our chair, completely enthralled in the words and movements of someone on the other end of the table. With eager eyes, we followed the swing of their hand gestures and noted every swift change of their facial expressions. We were like putty in their hands, eating up every word and ready to go wherever their story led us. 
What is it about a good story that has this affect on us? Well, it’s not so much the story itself, but rather the delivery of that story. Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can make you relive it. A great storyteller puts you in the action of the story, turning a memory, an idea, or a dream into an interactive experience. 
In writing, we don’t have the option of great physical gestures or facial expressions. Everything we do relies on words. Therefore, our words must be powerful enough to stand on their own. They must be strong enough to place the reader in the story; to make them feel as if they are in the very shoes of the one who wrote or experienced it. 
As E. L. Doctorow says, “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” This distinction is what separates writing from good writing. It is what produces an affect on your reader that cannot be easily shaken. Sure, anyone can tell them it’s raining, but not everyone can make them feel it.  
As a writer, my job is not to make you think of rain, or remember the last time you felt rain, but to have you experience a specific rain -- my rain. No, not the warm, gentle rain that lulls you to sleep at night. Not the cool and refreshing rain that sweeps in the crisp autumn air. The kind of cold rain that bitterly pecks at the back of your exposed neck like a hungry crane. Yes, that kind of rain.  
Writing, in essence, is all about communication; and the clearest form of communication comes with vivid and detailed description. So if you want to be a good writer, don't just write for the sake of telling a story. Write for the opportunity of sharing the experience. Use your words to make those who read your writing feel and experience your story just as you have.

About the Author: Gina Sares is a freelance copywriter and editor from Toledo, Ohio.

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