By Jennie Atkins
Field of Dreams is one of my all-time favorite movies. Especially one scene in particular. It’s when Ray Kinsella talks to Shoeless Joe Jackson about playing baseball:Shoeless Joe Jackson: Man, I did love this game. I'd have played for food money. It was the game... The sounds, the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?
Ray Kinsella: Yeah.
Shoeless Joe Jackson: I used to love travelling on the trains from town to town. The hotels... brass spittoons in the lobbies, brass beds in the rooms. It was the crowd, rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I'd play for nothing!In those few short sentences you can feel Shoeless Joe Jackson’s love for the game. You can hear, taste, and smell everything he experienced from traveling from town to town to actually playing the game. Without trying you can almost smell the popcorn and taste the salty flavor of a stadium hot dog.
He could have stopped after he said “Man, I did love this game.” But he didn’t, he explained why without going into laborious descriptions that went on forever. He put his descriptions in phrases we could understand, see, taste, and feel.
My dog named Fred liked to eat popsicles. By that description you could picture me handing him a frosty treat and in two bites and a gulp he’d have devoured it stick and all. Nope, not Fred. Fred would sit down next to me and while I held the colored ice, he’d lick the Popsicle with his long tongue. His eyes would roll back in his head as he savored the cool sweetness on his tongue one long, luscious lick at a time. Not once would he bite into it—he would slowly lick it clear down to the wooden stick.
As writers we need to stop and experience our writing one sweet scene at a time. What senses were engaged at the time? Was the air so foul with decay that it made the woman’s lunch crawl up her throat? Was the candy so sour that the small child shivered in reaction to its pucker? Was the scream so wretched the man never thought he’d sleep again without having it haunt him in his dreams?
It’s easy to plop in a bit of story world that describes the surroundings. But instead of paragraphs of eloquently written phrases, try slipping in small snippets that make the reader dig into their own memories for similar sensations. In the end, it makes them an active participant and puts them smack in the middle of your story without even trying.
Your Turn: How do you fit descriptions in?