A Lesson by Alex

The Picture's Costume


It's the climax of the book, and twenty chapters of character/plot development have built up to this final showdown. The hero and villain square off with the fate of the world clinging to the victor's whim. The reader is stoked!

Or is he? Or is he just reading words on paper? There are no real consequences, he's just going to close the book when it's over and go back to selling BIT coins. His life won't be impacted by this ink printed on paper. Well that may be true, but we're here for one reason: to trick that jaded SOB into forgetting so!

The goal of this course is "Immersion". Sure, books are merely letters in the proper arrangement, forming sentences, which link chapters of a coherent plot, but the art of Immersion is all about getting the reader to see past this and lose themselves in the world you have so lovingly created for them. Though still requiring some technical skill, movies have this factor on easy mode. While all a reader initially sees in a book are words, a movie shows it's viewers that same scene with comparatively very little effort.

Well I'm here to tell you that a skilled writer can look at that handicap and see it as the opposite. While requiring much more time and effort, a scene created on paper will be more alive, detailed, and authentic than anything a multi-million dollar budget could ever capture on screen.

In this lesson, we will focus on descriptors. I like to think of descriptors as costumes. An identical scene can be told using different descriptors with a different result each time. Depending on their costume, a scene will give a different impression. Below is a generic scene with no context. I've used very neutral descriptors.

With shaking knees, he stood up. Above, the sun was shining through a cluster of clouds, warming his skin. Across the courtyard, he saw her also shakily rising to her feet. Their eyes met, and with a jump In his stomach, he realized she was OK.

The above entry shows a rather bland, uninformed scene. Motivations are unclear, as well as tone. There's also no context, but that's the idea. Now below is the exact same scene, but I'm going to tweak my descriptors. The result will be a clearer understanding of what you, as a reader, should be feeling during this scene.

With trembling knees, he stood up. Above, the sun peered through the cumulus archipelago, bathing his tired skin in warmth. Across the courtyard, he saw her also rising slowly to her feet. Their eyes embraced, and with a fluttering leap in his stomach, he knew she was OK.

This scene has now become a happy one. We still have no context, but we can easily construe from the descriptors that this man and woman are precious to each other, and are happy that the other is OK. Now I'm going to tweak the descriptors once more, and flip the entire scene on its head:

With convulsing knees, he stood up. Above, the sun glared through the legion of clouds, searing his weary skin. Across the courtyard, he saw her also rising defiantly to her feet. Their eyes locked, and worms seemed to squirm through his stomach as he realized she was OK.

Now the scene is rather unhappy. Now it's fairly obvious that this man and woman disdain each other, and are not happy that the other is OK. This is the power of descriptors, and one of our most versatile tools in our Immersion Utility Belt.

This is also something that movies tend to have more difficulty with - besides changing the lighting and angle of the shot, or changing the musical score, there's little they can do to alter our perception of what they're showing us. In a writing medium, though, the sky's the limit. By describing the sky as the sun glaring through the legion of clouds, I haven't changed what the sky looks like, but I have changed your perception of it, and made you associate it with a specific tone.

Put into context, the use of descriptors becomes even more powerful. Adding the right scenery will let your descriptors grow to their full potential, giving the reader a real world to occupy. Scenery will be our next lesson. Until then!


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Added on August 14, 2015
Last Updated on August 14, 2015

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Cohoes, NY

Though I will occasionally write a poem here or there, poetry is not something that I consider myself well versed in - no pun untended. Because of that, I will usually not review other poems, as the b..