The Scariest Moment

“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” Stephen King

Do you have daily problems with your writing? Are you afraid that your sentences don’t read right, that your paragraph doesn’t sound right, and that the structure doesn’t feel right?

As a writer I am afraid that I might not be able to totally convey the message I wish to convey. My biggest hurdle no matter how long I’ve been doing this is to try to communicate as clearly and fully as possible. Especially when it comes to physical description. I can’t describe a scene as it appears. I have to feel connected to it somehow. For example if I enter a room I can’t seem to feel anything or see anything unless I’ve had a certain emotional link with that room. Oh, am I so glad that the days of colorful prose are over. If I were given a task of describing a scene using long passages of description, heavily larded with adjectives and adverbs, I would definitely fail.

John Cheever once wrote:
“I perused most of James when I was eighteen and was intoxicated by the innuendoes, the circumlocutions, the pools of light and the high-flown speeches delivered at dusk. Five years ago I bought the complete works and settled down to read it again. It was appalling. I could not imagine why he had spent so much time rigging the scenery, arranging the flowers and brewing the tea. I could hear his heavy breathing behind the walls of all those so wonderfully beautiful rooms. I felt as if I were caught at some unsuitable occupation….”

Even now, while I write, I look out from my window and I see a leafless tree, and cars covered in ice parked on both sides of the street. However, the moment I see one of my neighbors walking towards his car, a story starts developing in my head. Is he in a hurry? Does he look worried? What is going on in his life? Etc. For me if there’s no drama, no action, no emotional involvement, there’s no story.

Years ago while discussing my fears of writing with my then tutor I expressed to him my difficulty with physical descriptions. Here’s what he said:
“Description can be difficult. Practice with exercises. Take a room or a view and try writing a brief paragraph describing it. Take important details (such as the smells and colors in that place) and use them to weave an evocative description.”

Perhaps the best recommendation for beginning writers is made by Anthony Burgess:
“What I often do nowadays when I have to, say, describe a room, is take a page of a dictionary, any page at all, and see if with the words suggested by that one page in the dictionary I can build up a room, build up a scene. This is the kind of puzzle that interests me, keeps me going, and it will even suggest how to describe a girl’s hair, at least some of it will come, but I must keep to that page. I even did it in the novel I wrote called MF. There’s a description of a hotel vestibule whose properties are derived from page 167 in W.J. Wilkinson’s Malay English Dictionary. Nobody has noticed this. The thing you see, it suggests what pictures are on the wall, what color somebody’s wearing, and as most things in life are arbitrary anyway, you’re not doing anything naughty, you’re really normally doing what nature does, you’re just making an entity out of elements. I do recommend it to young writers.”


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3 Responses to The Scariest Moment

  1. I can relate to this.

  2. I never would have thought of using a page from a dictionary to help create a scene. I’ll have to try it sometime! Thanks for sharing your insight. 🙂

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