Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Descriptions’

Coffee and Writing and How They Relate

In Espresso, National Coffee Day, National Espresso Day, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on November 11, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services compares coffee to writing in honor of National Espresso Day on Nov. 23.

I’m addicted to fancy coffee because there are so many aspects to the experience.

A bit of sweet with the bitter of espresso, the heady smell of freshly ground espresso beans and the smooth texture give coffee that appeal of wanting more.

The well-known National Coffee Day was Sept. 29, but National Espresso Day is Nov. 23, created by, “365 days—thousands of excuses.”

My excuse, I have to admit, is to tie coffee to writing.

Espresso is an Italian-style dark, rich brew pressed out for a smooth finish. It’s the base ingredient in café lattes (my favorite is an iced caramel latte, summer or winter), cappuccinos and macchiatos.

Espresso and Writing

To celebrate Espresso Day, have a shot of espresso to mark its invention around the 1900s and pick up your pen, no excuses, to start describing the world around you, helped by the extra alertness from the caffeine.

It’s a matter of wanting more, such as two or three shots of espresso in the small latte. That’s like adding description to plain writing to make the process fun with the key ingredients of observing, absorbing and noticing details. Use the senses to observe and then choose words carefully to absorb, making sure every word has a purpose to move the writing along.

Achieving great writing is similar to using fresh beans in espresso—if they’re old, the taste is bitter. Descriptions that are trite, cliché-ridden and lacking detail can suffice but won’t give the reader that buzz that heightens the experience of drinking and reading.

To get more technical (but still keeping it fun), verbs are a key component of description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. For example, “the caramel sauce drizzled in a wavy path down the whipped cream” is more descriptive than “whip with caramel.”

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “extra skinny, extra hot, light foam, light whip latte with extra caramel.” Just say you’re picky.

What to Avoid in Description

There are a few other things to avoid in descriptions, such as:

  • Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. For example, saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours without caffeine.”
  • Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
  • Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Coffee and coffee cup are general nouns, as opposed to a pumpkin spice latte and an orange mug with leaves on it.

Description is what fills the pages of a story or gives a poem form. Without it, the action falls flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this. Or the poetic devices would be readily apparent without that wonder of captured memory and observation.

That’s why I like my coffee fancy.

Avoiding Cliches like the Plague

In 52 Writing Topics, Cliches, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

Bottom line, using clichés in writing makes readers’ eyes glaze over.

At the end of the day, writers want to turn the page, not get all bent out of shape over trite words and phases.

A cliché is an expression that lacks originality and impact because of frequent and prolonged use. The expression that is overused becomes meaningless and, unlike a metaphor or simile, requires no mental effort.

Clichés, in fact, can be a metaphor or turn of phrase that, at one time, was clever. Think pretty as a picture, smart as a whip and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Over time, these phrases become blasé chatter.

In writing fiction, clichés should be avoided, except when they are used deliberately as sarcasm or to reveal character.

A few clichés that do not say anything, except point to unoriginal thinking, include: because I can, it’s the way it is, live and let live, let’s get to the bottom of this and give it up.

Literally, give up the clichés.

How about: he left his mark, it made her blood boil, he was in a pinch, she’s cold as ice, he let the cat out of the bag, and curiosity killed the cat (after it was let out of the bag? so, does this cat now have eight lives?)

Here’s a nice pearl of wisdom:

Avoid saying something like “she felt …” in place of showing the reader the character’s emotions or response to a situation. Don’t say, she witnessed, observed, wanted … These all are vague words that tell, instead of show, as do clichés.

Even the writer’s mantra, “show, don’t tell,” is a cliché, except writers need to engage in that type of writing to maintain readers’ interest.

As you write, question any comparison or image you use and check if the words sound familiar. Clichés can sneak in when you try to be descriptive. Ask if the word or phrase has been used in conversation, books you’ve read or in advertising.

After invoking your personal cliché fighting task force, be creative in how you assemble words to capture moments, thoughts, actions and expression. Clichés are never too much of a good thing, and that’s final.

See Zoey’s take on clichés at Zoey’s Paw,