Here’s something for the romantics: an example of how to deploy metaphor to convey ideas of romance succinctly. In this video D.D. Johnston takes a process that is often unconscious and shows how and why we can arrive at the right image.
In this video we look at two descriptions of the same place, which appear at different stages of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Although the place is the same, Smith is able to advance the story just by changing the sensory details on which she and her characters focus. Being able to do this, to show rather than tell, to use concrete description as an essential part of the story rather than a background, is central to how most writers work. But do remember that mimesis is not the only way to tell the story: there are many alternatives to the cinematic mode of narration.
Some writers can become trapped in their protagonist’s minds. Everything is heavily filtered through the protagonist’s consciousness, to the extent that we can lose our bearings in the external world. In this video, we consider how JM Coetzee finds the right balance between interior and empirical experience.
Concrete description is sensory description; it is the stuff we can touch, see, smell, hear, and taste. Abstract descriptions have no weight or texture. They are ideas, conditions, qualities, abstractions that float around in the ether. When and how should writers use these different types of description?
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