In a mad rush to take some photos for an upcoming conservation newsletter, I snapped this photo on my back patio. It wasn’t until the published newsletter arrived in my mailbox that I really looked at the photograph.
This is a common dragonfly, an Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), seen all up and down the East Coast. Since it’s a common species, it should be easy to describe, right? Wrong.
I sat down with a copy of this photo, a pen and some lined paper. It took forever to come up with the words that truly described this insect. Was the body blue or the periwinkle blue of a house faded by years of sun and wind? Were the wings brown or the color of sunlight filtered through amber stained glass? Were the eyes green or the opalescent green of a rare opal?
Description can make or break you as a writer. While it’s easy to assume readers know exactly what you’re describing, maybe they don’t. It’s very important to learn to observe carefully and use the exact word in the exact context in order to create a true and telling description.
As writers we must be as precise as visual artists. We must paint with our words.
We can’t just say dragonfly. It simply doesn’t capture the essence of this insect.
Lateia Elam Sandifer is the president of South Carolina Writers Workshop. She is also the co-chair of the 2010 SCWW Conference in Myrtle Beach. She blogs regularly at http://scwwblog.blogspot.com
THANKS Lateia for being my first blog guest. This picture is absolutely amazing.
CONTESTS: Don’t forget to check my websites for the Hill Country Holdup debut contests. Lots of prizes if you get registered.