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Writing Challenge: the Devil is in the Details

For some of us, blogging is personal. Others are trying to educate or entertain; many more are hybrids. Yet we’re…

For some of us, blogging is personal. Others are trying to educate or entertain; many more are hybrids. Yet we’re all storytellers. Creative Writing Challenges help you to push your writing boundaries, show off your blogging chops, and, hopefully, spark more post ideas.

To participate, tag your post with DPchallenge or leave a link to it in the comments. (It would also be great if you could link to this post to encourage people to take part – the more the merrier!)  Your post should be specifically written in response to this challenge. We’ll keep an eye on the tag and highlight some of our favorite posts on Freshly Pressed on Friday.

No matter what you’re writing, whether it’s longform non-fiction essays, poems, short stories, novels, or memoirs, your powers of observation are critical to creating a scene in the reader’s mind, setting tone, and evoking the mood that helps to tell the story.

For example, you could write: “The dog ran across the street.” Every reader will picture a different dog and a different street in their mind. If you write: “The small, black, three-legged Chihuahua darted under a red Ford Focus and hopped across the wet cobblestone alley,” you create a more concrete picture in the reader’s mind. We can imagine a tiny dog, see it disappear briefly under a newer model red car, and follow it in our mind’s eye as it makes its way down the cobbles.

Let’s look at another example. You could write, “The man walked into a bar.” Or, you could describe the man more specifically as you imagine him in the scene, or document what you observe if the man is right before you: “The short, bearded man with red hair and Buddy Holly-style glasses strolled into the smoke-filled honky tonk and sat on an ancient wooden stool at the bar, the sound of peanut shells crunching under his boots.”

Each detail is like the stroke of a brush on blank canvas, filling in detail and completing the picture in the reader’s mind.

Your challenge this week is to practice your powers of observation. Take any person, place, or event, and write three paragraphs describing your subject in great detail. Here are three scenes to get you thinking — feel welcome to choose one or more of these scenes and riff off of it, or create your own:

1. A woman walks into a restaurant. Imagine this scene and capture every detail you can in a few paragraphs. Describe the woman: is she old, young, or in-between? What type of restaurant is it: fancy, casual, or a diner? What is she doing? Pack as much detail as you can into a few paragraphs that will help us imagine this woman clearly.

2. A boy plays in his front yard. You have three paragraphs to help us imagine this boy. What country are we in? Which details help communicate this? Is there an elm tree or an olive tree in his yard? Maybe there is no tree at all. How old is this boy? What color is his hair? What is he wearing? You get the idea.

3. Describe your writing space. Do you write on the couch? At the kitchen table? At a desk? In a restaurant? Describe your surroundings. What does it smell like? What is the light like in your space? What can you hear, feel, and see? You have three paragraphs to pull us into your space. Go.

As always, show your work: tag your post with DPchallenge.

Note that practicing observation is a great way to keep your imagination vivid and your descriptive powers sharp. You can choose any scene in the world and describe it in detail as a warm up to your writing projects. It’s a great way to bust writer’s block and ease into your writing goal for the day.

245 Comments

  1. I don’t mean to be all ‘grumpy pants,’ but wasn’t this challenge to write just THREE paragraphs? I couldn’t help but notice that two of the FP’d posts were longer. They were great, but I think the brevity of the writing challenge was an important aspect of it.

    1. @kylie First off, great entry into the challenge! You had me at “all the other boys had shirts with the alligator,” which transported me right back to the 80s.

      The beauty of this writing challenge and any other we publish is that writers can approach it in the way that suits them best. The true purpose of the challenges is to encourage participants to write. Three paragraphs was what I’d mentioned as part of the challenge, though participants can choose to write as much or as little as they wish.

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