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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Weekly writing prompt: Where you are

Describe where you are

Your weekend writing prompt is a perfect one for the bank holiday, as this one is much more fun when you're not at home. (If you are at home, right now, you might want to save it for when you're out.) Describe where you are. In detail. That's it. Write a detailed description of your environment, not for any book or project but just as pure process and for the enjoyment of words and ink on the page.

I have a couple of serving suggestions below, but first, a quick explanation. Description is the type of writing we get least practice at, in the rest of life. In emails, Facebook posts, Twitter threads, etc, we'll often give dialogue, action, explanation... but for description, we tend to post a photo or say "It was beautiful - you had to be there." So writing description is often our least-used writing muscle. However, if you take some fiction books off your shelves and highlight all the description, you'll find that it's a third to a half of the text. I've done this exercise with a wide range of genres, and every single time, there's a ton more description on the page than we realise. Obviously in your story, you might not whack it all into four consecutive paragraphs - it's interwoven with the characters' actions and speech - but it's there. So writing description as a regular writing exercise is the perfect way to build your skills at it. Writing by hand in your notebook is ideal for this, because then you're not limited to laptop-suitable places. Onto the serving suggestions then!

SERVING SUGGESTION 1: If you're up for a challenge, take this as a ten-minute-a-day challenge, and every day for the next week, spend 10 minutes describing where you are. (It might also encourage you to go sit in some odd places at lunch or after work!)

SERVING SUGGESTION 2. If you're quite used to writing description, and want to push yourself further, pick a particular approach to try. Some suggestions are...
  • be very exact about describing the colours 
  • describe everything as precisely as possible without using adjectives 
  • pick a particular sense to focus on, eg describe only through sound, only through texture, only through smell
  • look for more interesting verbs to use instead of is / are, eg instead of "the cups are on top of the coffee machine", "the cups nestle on top of the coffee machine"
  • describe it to create a particular mood or atmosphere. If you want to be given a mood at random, try this random emotion generator.
Don't try all the approaches at once, mind, just pick one to focus on. And have fun!

This is the 3rd of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Writing in Scenes, as description is a crucial aspect of scenes, and one that's easily overlooked. There's a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
All the workshops are stand-alone, and are suitable for any level from beginners to experienced writers.  You can read more about the workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

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