A Picture Says a Thousand Words…Now How to Get Them on Paper?!?

My good friend Jilly Wood, who lives in London, recently visited Kenwood, an historic estate near Hampstead Heath. In fact, if you’ve seen the movie Notting Hill, you’d recognize the back of Kenwood as the estate where character Anna Scott was filming the Henry James period piece.

The back of Kenwood House. Photo (c) English Heritage.

The back of Kenwood House. Photo (c) English Heritage.

The library in Kenwood was recently restored to its original state — paint colors, flooring, decor, etc. — and it’s gorgeous. Jilly wrote a bit about it on our group blog site Eight Ladies Writing and I made a mad dash for Google Images to find more about this fantastic national landmark.

What resulted from my search was this picture of the music room.

kenwood house

The Music Room at Kenwood House. Photo (c) English Heritage.

I knew the moment I saw this and the other pictures from Kenwood that this was Nate’s home, Langley Park. My problem? How to put such a beautiful place into words.

This isn’t a new challenge. Every writer has the audacious task of taking their reader into their world, seeing things as they do, or, in my case, as they really exist. I struggled to come up with adjectives that would describe in full detail this music room…I had to settle with pretty, tall, lavender, green, gilded, refined, expansive, impressive…pretty pathetic. Were I to use any of those words, my view in the reader’s eyes would clearly fall short.

I’ve decided that the way to tackle something like this room, where I think it’s very important to portray the room as closely as possible and the feelings it evokes — after all, I want the reader to get a sense of the grandness of this estate — is to pick one small piece of the room…a corner, let’s say, and start there. List everything I can think of about that corner. Colors, textures, smells, sounds, emotions and feelings…whatever. The idea is to get a bunch of words down on paper that, if cleverly rearranged, might actually make for decent description of the room.

I haven’t tried this yet…it’s only an idea of how to tackle this sort of massive descriptive endeavor (because I so want to get it right), but I’m hoping it will work. If nothing else, I hope to have better adjectives than “lavender,” “green,” and “pretty.”

What tricks do you have for putting visual description into words?

2 thoughts on “A Picture Says a Thousand Words…Now How to Get Them on Paper?!?

  1. Harliqueen

    I feel you on this. Sometimes I will stumble across a photo or picture that is perfect for a setting, then I actually stand back and think, ‘um, how am I even going to attempt to describe this well?’ 😀 I just try and list all the things that my character would see/experience first, and go from there.

    1. Justine Post author

      You bring up something important…I have to be seeing this through Susannah’s eyes. She’s been raised as the daughter of a gentleman, but this sort of wealth and opulence is far beyond her. Thanks for reminding me through whose eyes this room will first be seen!


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