This piece is both simultaneously a ‘how to’ on beating writers block but more importantly, this is a guideline on how to find great stories from your everyday surroundings. A story can be found during your everyday tasks or even just on your train journey home. There really is a narrative to be found wherever you look!
This is good news. Descriptive storytelling is a great exercise to maintain your daily writing practice or useful after a long day at work, when those creative juices might be drying up but you’re still wanting to finish the day with a quick medium article, or entry in the journal.
Besides, descriptive storytelling is some of THE best storytelling. Writers like Jack London, Jack Kerouac and even George Orwell built their trade on meandering narratives consisting of rich description, building wonderful stories from a slow bus journey to the mid-west, or brilliant characterisation from a greasy apron, an eyepatch and cracked-yellow teeth.
Practice makes perfect with this writing method but anyone can do it, so it’s important to write down everything you noticed in your day. That starts with paying closer attention to the aspects of your day which might otherwise have flown past. It requires mindful thinking. Try and notice the clatter of the traffic, or the humidity of the train carriage, or the sunshine yellow of your neighbours dress, or the tantalising aroma of salted beef in the local bagel shop.
Mindful description adds a narrative to even the most mundane situations and you can even start combining your anecdotes to create a bigger story, but that’s for another day.
Be meticulous. Everyday I catch the same train to my office in central London, my brain usually goes into automatic mode but if I really open up my mind, it’s a gold mine for descriptive goodness. This style of storytelling only works if you include every detail, so lets have a practice.
Attempt 1, start by simply describing where you are and what you see:
I board the train at Cutty Sark, Greenwich — I choose the right side of the escalator so I can descend quicker and squeeze my way through the crowds to a position just left of centre. The train arrives, it’s very busy as usual, but I manage to find a space in the corner to read the morning newspaper (the metro, it’s free and there’s always one to hand at the station entrance). The journey takes about 20 minutes, with a further 10 minute walk at the other end to my office.
Not the most riveting piece of prose but it’s a start, and already I feel my inner wordsmith waking up, lets try add some description and a bit more character to the same event:
Attempt 2, add some colour, some smell, some personality and spark up your creative juices: My usual commuter train pulls in to Cutty Sark Station, home of the world’s first tea ship the Cutty Sark, at exactly 8:10am. Fellow commuters shuffle past, fastening ties, rubbing tired eyes. I grab a creased metro from the mounting pile outside the station gates, the headline doesn’t grab my attention so I flick straight to the sports pages. As I enter the station, the crowds gather, so with a click of my heels I’m sidestepping the tailback, opting for the faster route down the right-hand side of the escalator. The platform is rammed. Amongst stuffy suits and irritable glances, I find my place on the platform, just left of centre. The carriage arrives, it’s heaving. I push through bodies and find a spot by the window, big enough to open my newspaper. After 20 whole minutes of this sweaty commute, I’m ready to emerge into the relatively cleaner air of central London, from there I walk a further 10 minutes to my office in sunny Shoreditch.
So there you have it, it’s easy to construct a short story from even the most trivial of instances. I find this a really constructive writing exercise for when I just have that burning urge to write but my creativity has let me down. Remember, if you can’t create, just describe; you’d be amazed by what you can document when you really use your senses. Happy describing.