Anton Chekhov on Description

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton ChekhovIMG_0187

To vividly describing a place, person, or thing is to imagine it in your mind’s eye. If it exists you may prefer to look at it or a photograph. Either way, you’ll start with some scene before you without dividing it into objects or attaching any words to it. Just form an impression of the colors, textures, shapes, and feeling.

Most importantly, refrain from your impulse to name them. Just picture and observe.

Then, be careful to select the right words to convey the place. If the words that come to mind don’t seem adequate, look in a dictionary, ask around, or do some research. Be sure to keep searching until you have the closest match possible between observation and language. While it’s okay to stop short of perfection, since words and thought inevitably fail to capture perception, keep revising until you can’t think of any way to improve your description further.

Instead of allowing the meaning you want to express to decide the words, you can be seduced by alliteration, rhythm and other sonic features, or fail to escape from customary phrasing, and allow language itself to decide what it is you want to say. This is for description in fiction or nonfiction. Poetry, of course, calls out for those sonic features.

In this way your description will serve you well in your writing.

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