100 ways to say “tree”

Yesterday’s post reminded me of another travelling game that has gone down in family legend.

We were driving along a dull stretch of freeway, with nothing but trees either side of the road as far as the eye could see – and the ducklings wanted to play I Spy. So we came up with a variation, where the answer was always the same, but the challenge was in thinking up a different description every time.

“I spy with my little eye something that has a brown trunk.”
“I spy with my little eye something that has green leaves.”
“… something that birds build nests in.”
“… something you can make paper out of.”
“… something loggers cut down.”
“… something that starts with T and ends in E.”

And so on. It kept the ducklings amused for a good half hour, all yelling out “TREE” every time at the tops of their lungs, and we came up with 30 or 40 ways to describe a tree. It got harder as we went along, of course, till we were really racking our brains trying to come up with something different.

It occurred to me this morning that this is good exercise for a writer’s brain. So often we reach for the same old descriptions – “brown trunk and green leaves” – instead of pushing a bit further to get “something you can make paper out of” or even further to “something featuring heavily in a lot of creation mythology”.

My first drafts are full of brown trunks and green leaves. My characters shrug and snort and nod nearly every time they open their mouths. Their hearts pound in their chests and leap into their throats every time they are alarmed (which is a lot of the time). There are grim looks by the bucketload and so much crossing and uncrossing of legs when they sit down it’s a wonder they haven’t all got cramps in their calves.

But that’s what revisions are for. Karen Miller says first drafts are just her telling herself the story. Alexandra Sokoloff had a great post a while back titled “Your first draft is always going to suck”. It helps to remember that when I’m feeling that my writing is registering too high on the crapometer. This is just me working out what happens. The time for adjusting subplots and foreshadowing is not now. Elegant prose is not now.

Now is just brown trunk after brown trunk, till I’ve built a whole forest to play in. Now is the painful “but what happens next?”.

So, time to stop playing on the blog and go find out. Damn trees.

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