Get ideas from your head onto paper

Ever have an image in your head that would be great for your story, but you just can’t think of the right words to use so it gets on paper? You’re not alone. Many writers frequently face this problem.

During my years of editing authors’ short stories and novels, many have shared with me how they dealt with such struggles. Usually I find out by saying to them, “That was one great descriptive paragraph you wrote! How did you come up with it?” They typically grin, shake their head, and respond, “You know, that was the most difficult paragraph to write! I couldn’t get onto paper this jumble of images in my head!”

They then go on to tell me how they worked through it. Generally it involved one of the following five strategies:
• Freewriting – Rather than stress over getting the wording just right, simply write down everything that comes to mind. Sometimes it will be a list of images, other times it will be a long, run-on paragraph, but whichever approach you use, don’t worry about typos, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, chronological order, or anything else.
• Sensuous dissecting – Make a list of what’s in your head by describing it through each of the senses. What does it look like? What does it sound like? Smell like? Feel like? Taste like?
• Spatial examination – List what an object or landscape looks like by describing one section of it and then another section. For example, a landscape might be described by looking at the foreground, the middle ground, and then the distance. A person’s face might be described by looking at its top (eyes), midsection (nose and ears) and bottom (mouth and chin).
• Journalistic scrutiny – Standard newspaper ledes answer the questions of who, what, when, where, why and sometimes how. Do the same with your scene, by telling who you’re writing about, what that character is doing, the time of day it is, where the character is, and why she’s there.
• Concrete details – If you have an image in your head of someone experiencing an emotion, list all of the specific physical details that allow you to recognize what emotion the character is expressing. So don’t write that a character is “sad” but instead that he is frowning, walking with a drooping head and hands in his pockets, stifling a sniffle, speaking in a soft voice, and so on.

Each of these methods essentially gives you a verbal sketch of your image or scene. Now, like a master painter, you refine it – in your case as a writer through rewriting and editing.