Here’s a writing trick I learned a while ago, helpful for finding a creative way to describe an object. The technique take a fair bit of time and energy, so I wouldn’t recommend it for everything you describe in your novel; regardless, it should be helpful for introducing a key McGuffin or symbol.
Take an object you wish to bring to life in prose. Examine it, move it around and touch it if you can. Then, write down 30 descriptions for it.
The first 10 descriptions will be obvious. The last 5-10 descriptions will stretch like a child in an orchard, reaching for something substantial. In between those two sections of your completed list, however, you’ll have some unique insights and creative interpretations of your object. Again, only do this for the items in your story that are worth time and dedication.
Because I’m lazy, I’ll start by describing the first thing in arm’s reach: one of my crutches.
Normally, I’d recommend the 30 Lines Practice for more complex items. But crutches tend to play an important role in stories, be it in plot or metaphor. I notice that my crutch has/is…
- Cold when touching the metal part
- Neutral heat when touching the crutch pad
- Set for 6’4” height
- 5 holes for hand grip adjustment area
- 9 holes for length adjustment area
- Dirt on the underside of crutch tip
- White scratches on any side
- Rubber crutch tip
- A twin crutch to go alongside it
- Removable crutch pad
- Removable crutch pad that keeps slipping off
- Metallic bolts
- Black scratches/bump marks
- Segments of the removable crutch pad peeling off
- A sterilized smell, but only up close
- A clicking sound when it makes contact with anything
- A wingnut to keep the hand grip in place
- Tiny white specks underneath the crutch pad
- A long sticker to mark heights for length adjustment area
- Clothing particles on the crutch pad
- A poor reflection of light
- An adjustable end end that partially covers one of the holes for length adjustment
- Hand grip that’s rough to the touch
- A wingnut with a bit of rust on it
- Weird dividers on the underside of the crutch pad
- Multicolored specks on the end of the crutch tip
- The weights of a newborn baby
- A sharp wingnut (at the ends)
- A weird reflective bolt on one side that looks like a glass eye)
- A uniform grey color
Not everything about this technique is as clear-cut as I described earlier… notice how only at the end I remembered to describe color. The point is, I had to work on and think about this object’s qualities. Let’s turn them into a paragraph about mortality.
Betty didn’t think it possible, but her faithful crutch was… well, it was peeling. It still featured a solid, uniform grey color, still smelt like a hospital up close. It had a crutch pad and handle grip and crutch tip, all in the right place. Yet the pad’s rubber strings began stripping off. The grip rested between white scratches and black scrapes. And underneath the tip hung dirt, and other, stranger, colorful particles. Even the height-marking sticker, on the adjustment area, detached at the ends. She noticed all this, because she had the time to notice it, and the will for little else.
Try this out on an object, and tell me the results!