I love this exercise. I was first introduced to this great meditative writing practice during an online course run by Ann Linquist. She asked us to light a candle and write one paragraph describing it, avoiding generic terms such as “dancing flame”. I found it a great descriptive exercise to hone my skills and to think outside of the box. It also had the added benefit of calming and focusing my thoughts, and providing a meditation like experience when staring into the lit candle.
The point is to show your readers what thoughts and feelings the burning candle evokes, not tell them. It is a tool to help you tap into your emotions when writing which helps to create a connection with your reader. This is the power of words and description. This is what will make your novel and writing stand out and leaves a long lasting impression on your readers.
Below is my very first attempt at this exercise. It is rough, however I have a strong attachment to it and have never been able to throw it away.
My candle was a gift from Secret Santa at work one year. It is in a thick glass holder, that could do someone serious damage if wielded as a weapon. It smells of Banksia and Bergamot. I stare into the flame for a while, and I start panicking as no ideas would come to me. So I take a deep breath, close my eyes and will my muscles to relax. Once I felt the tension drain away I open my eyes and stare into the flickering candle once more. Then they come to me. Faces skipping through my thoughts, like the twisting flame before me. The faces of my family; my parents, my nana and my siblings. Their features are cast by the orange glow of the campfires and candlelight of many happy memories flashing through my head, too many to describe in one small paragraph. Such strong memories and emotions to be evoked by the flickering of a fragile little flame. I am now very reluctant to blow the candle out, not wanting to lose the image of those smiling faces so far away from me over the Easter weekend. I think I will keep it burning for a bit longer.
I would love to see some descriptions of yours. Or if you have any other great exercises like this to help practice descriptive writing I would love to hear about them. I am always on the lookout for new writing tools, techniques and exercises.