As writers, we should always be practising our craft. We do that, obviously, by writing. But in addition to practising, we also need to be learning. Luckily, with so many stories available to us at our fingertips in the forms of movies, books, TV shows, and more, it’s easier than ever to find a good story to learn from!
I always find it helpful to take note of things I like and don’t like about a story once I’ve finished it (or even while I’m in the middle of it!). It doesn’t even need to be comprehensive or super detailed; just a brief note does it. Different stories have different merits, and I think it’s important to learn from these successful stories to make our own writing that much better.
One brilliant story that I think anyone can learn from is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. It may seem like an odd choice, but hear me out! I’ve actually been experiencing the story of Anne for the first time ever. See, the problem is that when I was in fourth grade, I discovered YA books, and I never went back from there. That means I missed out on tons of important kid’s books that I should have read but didn’t! (Don’t worry, though, I’m catching up on them now.) One of those was certainly Anne of Green Gables.
I never really felt the need to read Anne; I mean, we all know it’s about a red-haired girl who talks a lot, right? Oh, and she cracks the slate over that kid’s head. Yep, that’s about it.
But my oldest nephew has gotten really into reading chapter books recently, and one book he’s been particularly interested in is Anne of Green Gables. He was telling me about it, and I thought, “Hey, maybe I should read that so we can talk about the book together!” I sort of forgot about it though, until a suggestion for me came up on Spotify.
Enter: Mary Kate Wiles’ Anne of Green Gables audiobook, complete with beautiful music and a talented cast.
I’m familiar with some of Mary Kate Wiles’ work (namely The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) so I decided to check this out one night as my husband and I were at the gym.
Now, I’m almost finished with the whole book!
I’ll keep my praise for this version of the story short, since that’s not what the post is about, but you should really have a listen if you’re not familiar with the story! Mary Kate Wiles is the perfect Anne, and all of the other voices are spot on as well. The entirety of Anne of Green Gables is up for free on Spotify, and the next book is currently being made as well! It’s hilarious, entertaining, and unforgettable. If you’re looking for an audio version of the book, I can highly recommend this one!
Needless to say, I was instantly captivated by this story. It was so much more than I ever expected! Already, I’m wondering why more people don’t talk about this book. It may be for children, but it’s still extremely entertaining for adults, and, what I’m most concerned about, it’s so well-written.
One thing that I was especially impressed by from the very beginning was the vivid way in which the descriptions were written. There are many other wonderful facets of the book, namely the dialogue, the character voices, and the characters themselves, but today, I want to focus on these descriptions. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this excerpt from the beginning of the book:
The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer. Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.Chapter 2: Matthew Cuthbert Is Surprised
Its beauty seemed to strike the child dumb. She leaned back in the buggy, her thin hands clasped before her, her face lifted rapturously to the white splendor above. Even when they had passed out and were driving down the long slope to Newbridge she never moved or spoke. Still with rapt face she gazed afar into the sunset west, with eyes that saw visions trooping splendidly across that glowing background.
See what I’m talking about? And the descriptions remain this wonderful throughout the book as well! Here’s another snippet from later on in the book:
Anne was bringing the cows home from the back pasture by way of Lover’s Lane. It was a September evening and all the gaps and clearings in the woods were brimmed up with ruby sunset light. Here and there the lane was splashed with it, but for the most part it was already quite shadowy beneath the maples, and the spaces under the firs were filled with a clear violet dusk like airy wine. The winds were out in their tops, and there is no sweeter music on earth than that which the wind makes in the fir trees at evening.Chapter 29: An Epoch in Anne’s Life
Now, does every kind of book call for descriptions exactly like this? No, of course not! But just see how rich the imagery is here. When you write descriptions in your books, you want to paint a picture for the reader, and these descriptions do exactly that.
I have a theory that books today have fewer descriptions because, in short, writers are watching too much TV. People don’t describe things on screen, obviously, because there’s no need to. So when writers have their eyes on a screen too often rather than reading or listening to books, I think their mindset shifts to more cinematic writing and they leave out those descriptions that truly complete a really great book. “You are what you eat,” right? Now, writing for screen isn’t a bad thing at all, but when you’re writing a book, you should be taking in lots of book writing, not screenwriting. Too many books nowadays forego descriptions and imagery, and it’s one of the biggest strengths lacking in most writers today.
But you don’t have to be like that! Here’s a perfect example of a book you can read to get that descriptive writing in your head. If this isn’t your strength, that’s okay! Guess what? You can practise, just as we were talking about earlier. Go outside and write about what you see. It’s all right if it doesn’t sound perfect at first. But then, go in and hone that writing. I’ll bet that you can paint some pretty awesome imagery that will be unique to your writing style.
Oh, and here’s another thing: Anne of Green Gables is in the public domain! That means there are tons of free versions available everywhere. Even if you don’t read the whole thing, I invite you to at least start the book and take note of its many successes.
It’s time to elevate your descriptions. Get out there and write about the beautiful world we live in!