Mr7 and I have been talking about description lately. His English classes at school are beginning to move along from straight recount – we did this, and then we did this, and then we did this – and into writing.
His teacher has been trying to encourage some description. He is not keen. He feels the descriptions distract from the story.
I understand how he feels. I’ve read too many books in my time that required me to wade through pages and pages of adjectives before I could spot any semblance of plot.
But it’s also difficult to build a writerly picture without it. The Cat Sat On The Mat. Straightforward plot. But what kind of cat was it? What colour? Long-haired? Short-haired? White socks on its paws? Was the mat a deep-pile oasis of luxury, or a rough, hairy, rubber-backed doormat?
You get the picture.
We went for a little bushwalk on Saturday, during a break in the weather, as raindrops dripped off leaves around us and we jumped over the puddles (or through them in Mr4’s case). As we walked, I asked Mr7 what he could smell.
He took a long, hard, seven-year-old sniff.
“Air,” he shrugged.
“Remember we were talking about description?” I asked. He nodded. “How would you describe the smell?”
He sniffed again. And again. “I don’t know, mum,” he said, desperation in his voice. He likes to get things right. “Is there lavender in there somewhere?”
I laughed. “Can you smell the rain on the leaves?”
Yes, he could.
“Can you smell the fresh, tangy eucalyptus oil from those gum trees?”
“Can you smell those soggy leaves, rotting on the ground?”
He nodded again. And thought.
“That’s description, isn’t it, mum?”
Yep. Lesson over. We’ll save the other senses for another day.
How do you feel about description in books? The more the better, or do you prefer just enough to keep the story rolling along?
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