Sensory Detail and Figurative Language


When you want to "bring something to life" in your writing, or get concretely detailed (to show something with description rather than just generally tell about that something), you usually have to be a good observer of sensory detail which has a lot to do with adjectives (modifies/enhances nouns) and adverbs (modifies/enhances verbs), though one must always beware of clichés:

sight--his brown hair hangs down to the middle of his sloping back

sound--the train he sits on clanks metallically beneath him

taste--his hair tastes like bad chemicals, sour and tinny

touch--his skin must feel like sandpaper

smell--there is something musty and moldy about him

psychic/intuition (ha ha)--he seems sad like a dog laying on a dusty sidewalk in Mexico--I sense his pain in the tired squint of his eyes


Figurative Language--more maximalist--also known as imagery or metaphorical language, is often the only way to really make something plain or something abstract feel more concrete via comparison (you compare the literal thing or idea to a figurative concrete thing).  Notice that some of my examples above are figurative, though one must always beware of bad metaphors:

simile--has like or as in the sentence--his hair hangs like broken violin strings

metaphor--doesn't have like or as in the sentence--often more surreal feeling--may take the form of an adjective or adverb--his broken violin string hair--his sandpaper skin--

personification--(often easy to cliché)--giving inanimate objects human qualities (Barry Lopez often does this, say, to describe "The Wind" in Desert Notes)--his hair moved like fingers around his shoulders--Plath's Metaphors poem--"[I'm] a mellon strolling on two tendrils" (mellons aren't human, but strolling is a very human descriptor)

analogy--comparison of things to make a point--often more involved, or more narrative (false analogy is a logical fallacy where the two things compared are way too different, and thus can't be accurately compared; but this can create surprise and humor in more opened-form creative writing; often the comparison is of different things)--watching people while riding on the bus is a lot like traveling to another country: things look familiar from afar, but up close you wonder if you've entered another dimension (sorry, I'm not good with analogies...comics use this form a lot)