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Old 01-30-2013, 09:09 AM   #1
Knigel
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Hello, any advice on how to describe size?

I've been trying not to use so many adjectives and adverbs, and instead try to give exact descriptions of things by showing and comparing. I've been getting stuck on showing the size of objects. I keep doing things like comparing objects to my own finger or forearms lengths, but I know that's stupid since no one knows what I look like. I also think of things such as animals or other items that have different sizes.

What all do you use to get an imaginative boost to describing sizes?

(This is also my first post here so hello and I apologise if I've done anything wrong)
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:13 AM   #2
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My first thought when I read this thread was 'size of what'? And then I thought naughty things because it's midnight and at midnight I tend to have naughty thoughts if I'm still awake.

I use adjectives to describe size. "Colossal", "Humongous," "Medium", "Ant-like" "Tiny". I wanna keep things simple.
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:20 AM   #3
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Well, to be honest, this thread was spurred by trying to describe old women sucking on 13 inch cigars.

No joke.
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:25 AM   #4
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Compare the size to other things/objects.
If someone is taller, give me their height and relate them to other people. "He was seven feet tall and could see over any crowd."

But then, why are you trying to give exact measurements? You don't need to fully describe something if there's not already a large focus on this.
Example: The MC picks up a pen. He describes that its a custom pen, the handle carved from wood, and on the tip is a darker area which appears to be a stain of blood. You don't have to say that the pen is 2 finger-lengths long.

EDIT: Swing by the New Members forum.
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:40 AM   #5
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"The old woman was sucking on a cigar as long as her forearm."

Or...

"The old woman was sucking on a cigar so long she could use it as a walking stick if she wished." (Obviously this is slightly longer than 13 inches, hur hur, but I couldn't resist. )
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:42 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WillSauger View Post
Compare the size to other things/objects.
If someone is taller, give me their height and relate them to other people. "He was seven feet tall and could see over any crowd."

But then, why are you trying to give exact measurements? You don't need to fully describe something if there's not already a large focus on this.
Example: The MC picks up a pen. He describes that its a custom pen, the handle carved from wood, and on the tip is a darker area which appears to be a stain of blood. You don't have to say that the pen is 2 finger-lengths long.

EDIT: Swing by the New Members forum.

Thank you. The reason I want to be exact in sizes is because some things make for better visuals. As I mentioned, the cigars are one thing, but I was also trying to describe geckos that were about the size of my middle finger. Since there are so many different sizes of geckos, I want to differentiate them from others. At the same time, I don't want to use adjectives. I was to show it so that the reader can see it.
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:45 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Putputt View Post
"The old woman was sucking on a cigar as long as her forearm."

Or...

"The old woman was sucking on a cigar so long she could use it as a walking stick if she wished." (Obviously this is slightly longer than 13 inches, hur hur, but I couldn't resist. )

This is also good and I like exaggeration, but for the piece I'm working on, I am trying to use as much realism as possible. I am experimenting in exactness. I'm trying to control all of my usual devices. I'm allowing myself some metaphor and simile, but I'm still trying to restrain that to visual objects.
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Old 01-30-2013, 01:21 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Knigel View Post
Thank you. The reason I want to be exact in sizes is because some things make for better visuals. As I mentioned, the cigars are one thing, but I was also trying to describe geckos that were about the size of my middle finger. Since there are so many different sizes of geckos, I want to differentiate them from others. At the same time, I don't want to use adjectives. I was to show it so that the reader can see it.

I don't see a problem with "gekkos the size of my/his middle finger." No, we don't know exactly how long the character's fingers are, but we certainly have an idea in mind; unless your character is a giant, we assume his fingers are a couple of inches long. We don't need to know the size of the gekkos down to the millimeter.

All you have to do is make sure the reader can visualize what you're writing. "Finger-length gekkos" is easily visualized.
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Old 01-30-2013, 01:49 PM   #9
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What all do you use to get an imaginative boost to describing sizes?
Hoo doggie.



Agree w/ the general consensus, which is, generally, you needn't be absolutely, totally, completely, 100% accurate in your descriptions. Most of the time, ballpark is fine.

Sometimes it's okay to leave some details to the reader's imagination. Actually, sometimes it's prudent. And sometimes it's difficult to do that, at least for me it is. You have a picture in your head of something and the tendency is to want to give that to your readers so they can envision your vision, your glorious story. But leaving nothing to the imagination reduces a reader's level of engagement, which isn't what you want to do.

What does that have to do with old ladies puffing 13-inch-long stogies? Um. . .

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Old 01-30-2013, 03:48 PM   #10
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If it's a 13 inch cigar, I'd just say it's a 13 inch cigar.
Maybe a baker's dozen.
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Old 01-30-2013, 04:39 PM   #11
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Reading about 13-inch cigars and thinking I better because my mind's in the gutter right now.
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Old 01-30-2013, 05:00 PM   #12
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Hmmm..... the problem I have with reading a description of a '13-inch cigar' is I wouldn't believe it. That's over a foot long! Try putting a ruler in your mouth and controlling it. And then imagine it with one end on fire.

nah, that would make me roll my eyes and put the book down.
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Old 01-30-2013, 05:03 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Knigel View Post
Well, to be honest, this thread was spurred by trying to describe old women sucking on 13 inch cigars.

No joke.
You could say something like, "The cigar was far longer than it should be." Or "Twice as long as the average cigar."

That said, there's also nothing wrong with adjectives, if they add clarity.
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Old 01-30-2013, 05:12 PM   #14
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I wouldn't worry about the gecko - call it small and let it go. The cigar? I'd go with something like 'remarkably long' - no reason to steer clear of adjectives completely. But with any descriptive detail, you should ask yourself why it's necessary to be that detailed. I'd picture a small gecko versus a large one (although frankly I had no idea there were large ones), but the point for me would be why would it matter? Same with the cigar - does it matter that it's extremely long, or is the fact she's smoking a cigar the main point?
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Old 01-30-2013, 05:36 PM   #15
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I'd just use "13-inch cigar" or maybe "footlong". You don't have to use a simile or metaphor for everything. In fact, if it's just a passing description without significance to the story, a metaphor can be distracting.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mirandashell View Post
Hmmm..... the problem I have with reading a description of a '13-inch cigar' is I wouldn't believe it. That's over a foot long! Try putting a ruler in your mouth and controlling it. And then imagine it with one end on fire.

nah, that would make me roll my eyes and put the book down.
Depends on the context. It wouldn't be realistic in a modern, urban context. Commercially made cigars aren't much larger than 9 inches. However, if the story was about a small village and home-made cigars, I wouldn't have a problem with it.
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Old 01-30-2013, 06:10 PM   #16
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Use what the viewpoint character would use.
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Old 01-30-2013, 06:39 PM   #17
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Personally, I'd go with "the longest cigar POVCHAR had ever seen." That way the reader who's familiar with cigars will get it and the reader who doesn't know a thing about them won't suddenly stop and wonder if that was possible at all. The vast majority of people don't have a clue how long any exact measurement is because they don't use them day-in and day-out, so their mental concept is completely skewed. (I admit to being one of them.)

I've found that the more exact the detail (particularly if it's correct but an unknown quantity to the general population) is more likely to throw a reader out of a story than something that allows them to make whatever assumptions they're comfortable with and keep reading. Making it a reference to a finger, the height/width of someone/something, or "biggest/smallest ever seen" puts the size into easy perspective without a great deal of work on my part.

It's even a bonus, since what reference the POV char gives show a bit of their character/personality/mood.
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Old 01-30-2013, 07:06 PM   #18
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Quote:
Knigel: Well, to be honest, this thread was spurred by trying to describe old women sucking on 13 inch cigars.

No joke.

. . .I like exaggeration, but for the piece I'm working on, I am trying to use as much realism as possible. I am experimenting in exactness. I'm trying to control all of my usual devices. I'm allowing myself some metaphor and simile, but I'm still trying to restrain that to visual objects.
Okay. So, "The old women were smoking gecko-sized cigars, not those tiny geckos, and not the really big ones; you know, those medium-sized geckos, somewhere between twelve and fourteen inches long."

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Old 01-30-2013, 07:17 PM   #19
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It's all very simple.

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Old 01-30-2013, 07:26 PM   #20
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Okay. So, "The old women were smoking gecko-sized cigars, not those tiny geckos, and not the really big ones; you know, those medium-sized geckos, somewhere between twelve and fourteen inches long."

That's perfect.

It also reminds me of my favorite description of size...which was something along the lines of: "They served generous portions of ice cream. Seriously. Each plop of ice cream was as big as a hamster."

Until now, that's how I describe my ice cream scoops.
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:24 PM   #21
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Hmmm..... the problem I have with reading a description of a '13-inch cigar' is I wouldn't believe it. That's over a foot long! Try putting a ruler in your mouth and controlling it. And then imagine it with one end on fire.

nah, that would make me roll my eyes and put the book down.

Apparently you haven't been to Cuba.

You don't even have to visit one of the cigar factories to see tiny little women puffing on logs that outweigh them.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=cuban...KaOyiQKwtoGABQ
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:29 PM   #22
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No I haven't. Which is why I would eyeroll at the idea.

But that's just me.
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:30 PM   #23
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Quote:
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Thank you. The reason I want to be exact in sizes is because some things make for better visuals. As I mentioned, the cigars are one thing, but I was also trying to describe geckos that were about the size of my middle finger. Since there are so many different sizes of geckos, I want to differentiate them from others. At the same time, I don't want to use adjectives. I was to show it so that the reader can see it.
As a reader, I don't care exactly how big that gecko is. Some adjective that means "small" would work for me. If you just have to say how big something is, it's common to use "the length of a finger” or “as big around as my thumb.”. No reader cares that peoples fingers are different lengths. They don’t need to know that the gecko is exactly 2” and 7/8. Other common objects would work as well.
“It was a king of geckos. The gecko’s head alone was as large as a pack of cards.”
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:42 PM   #24
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No I haven't. Which is why I would eyeroll at the idea.

But that's just me.
To be honest, this is one of the reasons I am going for realism and non-exaggeration. I want to build trust with the reader so that when I say something, they do not roll their eyes because they are aware that it is a fact and not something like hyperbole.

You do raise a good point that I worry about when I'm writing. For example, in my story, there are two albinos. It seems unlikely that in one day there would be two passing albinos, yet that was the reality of my experience. I think that if I get caught using hyperbole or flowery language previously, the reader can suspect that this information is not true.

So, for you, how would I communicate 13inch cigars to you so that you don't roll your eyes?
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Old 01-30-2013, 09:47 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Knigel View Post
So, for you, how would I communicate 13inch cigars to you so that you don't roll your eyes?
For some readers, you probably can't. But if you write with confidence, and don't set out to prove something is true--and certainly don't have a character question their veracity--many will accept them
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