Descriptive Writing and the Five Senses

Description sets the stage for imagination.

Don’t you go gaga for imagination? I can’t help myself. When my thoughts escape me, I find myself daydreaming about having butterbeer with Harry, Ron, and Hermione or what it would be like to foster mom Tom Sawyer. It is always hats off to an author when their characters or settings become manifest in my reality. Like saying, wow. Your description and characters are so good that I’m actually losing my grip on reality. Nice job!

And of course, I want to do that to my own readers someday. *Cackle*

This post will be my second post about descriptive writing.

Readers: Posts like this are really just exercises for myself. I like to write, but building up a skill base can feel tedious. Sometimes it feels like for all the side writing, I am not actually making progress toward my big writing project. Blogging these exercises is just to help keep the train chugging. (If you ever feel that way and use your blog to practice writing skills, please link me to your work! I will happily read your posts and try some of the writing exercises you use.)

Bring the prompt to life using the five senses.

If you click here, you will find a list of simple descriptive writing prompts. This is the prompt I chose:

Your penpal from Antarctica sends you a penguin. Tell about your first day with the new pet.

Now, let’s see if I can bring it to life using all five senses.

The wooden crate didn’t look suspicious. The wood was weathered–it came from Antarctica, after all–but the word “FRAGILE” was so faded that you could barely see it stamped all over the sides.

Something inside the box shook. Even with the crowbar in my hand, I took a step back. That’s about when I noticed a packing slip stapled to the crate. “Live. Stock.” Live stock, not livestock, I puzzled. Who knows how long I would have stood there, a crowbar hanging loosely from my hand, as I tried to work out the nuance. Certainly not me, for at that moment, there was a great creak and a snap, and a penguin came toppling out.

That’s right. A penguin. He looked up at me in his slick rubber tuxedo, and then he looked down again. I glanced at my ankles to see what had distracted him. He was staring back at me when I looked up. No. Way. Did I just get looked up and down by a penguin? Suddenly, I felt conscious of my disheveled hair and the frayed robe hanging at my kneecaps.

There was no note in the crate. Just a strong odor of hay and old fish. It was pungent enough for me to take another step back.

The penguin waddled up to me. He was almost cute, with his button eyes and his clumsy walk. Then, I felt a jab at my foot and realized he had mistaken my toes for anchovies. Not so cute.

What was Isie thinking anyway, sending me a penguin? Didn’t she know that Florida was nothing like Antarctica? I looked out my window and counted one, two, three, four –four palm trees! Four palm trees visible from my front yard. And a penguin in my living room. I sighed. Penpals had sure seemed like a great idea at the time.

“Let’s go, beaky,” I said, and promptly cursed under my breath for talking to a penguin.

The penguin, obviously, said nothing.

I waved him toward the front door. Nothing.

I pantomimed with my fingers. Jab, you. Jab, that way. Fingers walking on air, get going. Still nothing, if you can believe that.

I was mid-demonstration of a waddle toward the door when I realized two things. First, I looked ridiculous. Second, I might be short by my friends’ standards, but I am much bigger than a penguin.

Mid-waddle, I stopped what I was doing and lunged for the penguin. I tasted carpet. With a deafening squawk, he scampered out of my way and slid across my wooden floor into my hipster book case. A paperback copy of  Wuthering Heights thumped him on the head. Again, I tore after him, also crashing into the book case, and this time I got tail feathers just as he squirmed free. Three academic hardcopies of The Holy Bible thudded onto my head. I growled.

We went around and around for what seemed like hours, scuttling past each piece of minimalist  furniture and crashing into every vintage tabletop. Every time I pounced, he was just quick enough or clumsy enough to slide out of reach. Each time he slid, he took down an end table or a shelf with him. Finally, panting, covered in sweat, lint, and pieces of hay, I collapsed in a heap on the floor, right next to that abominable wooden crate. It seemed the penguin must have been tired too; he belly-paddled wearily back into the crate.

Things were almost as they had been hours ago, when I first found myself wondering what was in my box from Antarctica. Except that I was crumpled on the hardwood floor, my muscles ached, my house was trashed, and oddly, if someone were to ask me, I would have had to admit that I did not think penguins were very cute after all.

That’s it–there’s my excerpt. I meant to focus on my descriptions, but I ended up having loads of fun with the story and got a little carried away. It sure was fun to write, though!

If you haven’t checked out Harvey Chapman’s blog about writing, you should take a good look here. He gives a great rundown that is easy to palate. If you wanted to see my first meager attempt at a descriptive writing exercise, you can amuse yourself by clicking here.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to link me to your work. (:

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