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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Enjoying Winter? Move Here!

Living in the upper Midwest, Minnesota more precisely, winter can be a brutal season. Already we've experienced double-digit negative temps; wind chills that can freeze exposed flesh in five to ten minutes; daytime highs below zero. Yeah, for all of you not from here, it's cold - really cold.

Another thing I need to tell you warm weather folks is that you never actually get used to being this cold. Oh sure, people up here brag about surviving in the icebox of the US. "Needed a scarf today, even a hat," locals joke. But on nights where it's 30 below and the windchill hovers around 50 below, no one goes outside unless they really, really have to.

But just how cold is it? I don't mean temperature, I mean in words.

It's really cold outside.

Okay, this tells me absolutely nothing. Cold is a relative term. A cold morning in LA could mean 45 degrees...above zero (wimps). Cold in Alaska could be 50 below. Let's try again.

It's cold enough to freeze the feet off a brass monkey.

Oh, now we're going with cliches; how wonderful. Again this tells me nothing. Use your words.

It's the type cold that takes your breath away.

This is better. Especially if you live in a climate where you know what cold really means. But what about for our warmer weather friends? People who've never had the cold take their breath away?

It's the type of cold where snow crunches under the weight of car tires, sounding like...

This is good, really good. When you use senses to help describe situations, people start to develop a picture in their mind. The better the words and phrases, the clearer the picture.

It's cold enough to freeze hot water within seconds; where exposed flesh will freeze (and ultimately burn) from three minutes of exposure. A cold so brutal, so bracing that even dogs refuse to go outside. Where steam rises from 33-degree lake water, freezing into tiny ice crystals in the frigid air.

There is a lesson here for all of us; not just writers, but everyone. We each possess enough language skills to accurately tell anyone from anywhere what we are thinking. Challenge yourself to find the best words possible for each sentence. Don't give into vagueness or cliches.

This year I'm trying to focus my descriptions into clear pictures. Not just sometimes, but every time - all descriptions. Of course, I need to watch out for the dreaded "purple prose"; where over-description ruins paragraph after paragraph. I know there's a fine line, a sharp edge to this game. Happily, I accept the challenge of finding that elusive line.

Have a great week,

e a lake

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