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I have a tendency to write text that's on the "beige" side. I think it's the engineer in me that tends to write text that's very straightforward and strictly factual. To a certain degree, that's good, but I feel like my writing can use more "color" sometimes to make it more interesting.

What are some good ways to provide "texture" to such writing?

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    Yes. Reading other authors and consciously making mental notes of what you like and don't. – Lew Feb 7 '17 at 17:35
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    I have this problem too (also an engineer) and I find writing characters significantly easier than writing about things. I think it's also about what you like to read. I love reading deep characters, I fall asleep reading long descriptions of forests. – user21642 Feb 8 '17 at 10:09
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Don't focus on vocabulary. It is very hard to change your vocabulary and the only real and natural way to do it is by extensive reading. Any attempt to artificially liven up your prose with exotic vocabulary is only going to sound forced.

Rather, focus on what you write about. The real texture of writing comes from what is written about, not from how it is written. Great fiction is, above all else, finely observed. It opens your eyes because the author had their eyes open. Observation, not diction, is the key to lively writing.

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    @JasonBaker Both this and Lauren's answer get right to the heart of the issue: Many of those of us who are technically inclined tend to be a bit absent minded --we aren't necessarily observant and/or sensually engaged with the physical world. That carries over into our writing. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Feb 7 '17 at 19:38
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    This reminds me of a quote from Stephen King's "On Writing", where he compared using overly flowery language in fiction to dressing a pet in human clothes: "The pet is embarrassed, and the perpetrator of this premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed." I agree though, the "how" of writing is usually more important than the "what." – Brittany Wright Feb 16 '17 at 4:26
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Further to Mark Baker's excellent answer: If you want your writing to be more colorful, practice observing and recording colorful things.

I don't necessary mean literal color, although that's not a bad thing either, but to take regular, scheduled time to observe people, actions, sensations, scenery, feelings, sounds, smells, et cetera and then write them down with as much detail as you can.

Basic examples to get you started:

  • Walk barefoot in your yard for a good 15 to 30 minutes. Write down all the sensations. Note how your gait, posture, and stride change. Do different kinds of grass feel different? Can you tell if the ground is dry? Is the grass under a tree a lot cooler than that in the sun?
  • Describe lunch. Not just "a ham and cheese sandwich," but discuss what kind of ham, the fragrance, the color, the type of cheese, the condiments, the fixings, the bread. Notice the height of it. Is it pre-packaged cold cuts on Wonder Bread or a Boar's Head Dagwood special? Is the tomato winter-pale or heirloom?
  • Find a bakery. Sit in the corner for half an hour and describe the sounds. Not the amazing smells, but the noises: the coffee machine, the servers yelling, people ordering, the jingle of the bells over the door.
  • Record a sunset. You don't have to be poetic if that's not your thing, but you can describe how the colors shift as the sun goes lower in the sky, how clouds are afffected, how the rays of the light slant, how the air is cooling.
  • Find a perfume counter and test different fragrances. Do they smell the same on your wrist as your elbow? Do different fragrances work well together? Does perfume oil last longer than an alcohol-based spray? Do you find that aquatics appeal to you but patchouli makes you gag?
  • I don't suggest you injure yourself, but if you do get banged up, pay attention and try to remember how it felt so you can write it down later.

The idea is to become accustomed to seeing beyond the practical recitation of facts to noting details. The detals are what will add "color," or interest, to your writing.

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    Very well put. Kent Haruf has an incredible way of writing beautiful prose simply. "Our Souls at Night" is a short, powerful read which might offer some techniques to try. – Brereton Jul 9 '17 at 17:33
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I am a similar Engineer type, and I have recently found out about pretty simple writing tools. Or, at least people told me they were elementary.

The texture of your content is very important, and there are elements beyond the vocabulary that make writing more beautiful. Key components of the "texture" I believe you are looking for include the variance of grammatical structure and eventually a sense of suspense and reveal.

Richard Muller speaks of these changes you can make, also from the point of view of a physicist.

The best advice (and Muller speaks to it) is to read what you like, and then really read what you like. Pull it apart and find out why you like it. That's how we build new tools; read and learn. Participate.

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Some of the current answers are part of the problem that you have: they provide a cognitive approach.

When your writing lacks "color" it lacks emotion. You cannot analyse other texts and consciously construct your own writing based on the results of that analysis to contain emotion. You cannot follow certain rules to create emotion. The result would be fake emotions.

Colorful, that is, emotional writing comes from the authors feeling something about what they write about. Colorful writers remember how they felt in similar situations or simply imagine how they would feel in place of the protagonist.

Writing is like speaking in this respect. If someone tells something that he does not care about, his voice will be flat and emotionless. If someone tells something that excited him, that is, something that made him angry, afraid, or happy, then his voice – and his choice of words – will reflect those emotions and his narration will become colorful.

So what you need to do is

feel.


You write that it is "the engineer in you" that causes you to write beige text. I think it is not your professional training that influences your writing but rather that you have chosen your profession to fit your personality. Maybe you belong to that half of the population that does not emote so strongly.

If that is so, then attempting to write more colorful may turn out to become impossible to achieve for you, because you simply don't work that way. You believe that you must write colorful prose, but you really don't have to. There are good and successful writers, like for example Stanisław Lem, who have built a career on writing intellectual, even-minded fiction.

So instead of trying to write more colorful – which just might not be for you (but I don't know and you might have to try to find out) – you could instead

make that "engineer" perception your trademark and evolve it.

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Try going over your work paragraph by paragraph. It is you who sensed that it is "beige," indicating that you see a flaw there. Try some tricks: changing word order, finding more exciting verbs to replace dull familiar ones, and here's one to pay particular attention to: verbs!

Eliminate passive verbs (is, are, have been etc) and replace them with active ones (clamber, limp, saunter, strangle, etc). Use more verbs and fewer adjectives. Look at your subject in an analytical way and think about the most fascinating aspects of it. What interests you about it? Focus first on that. Also place prominent and fascinating things before dull details. If the details are fascinating then promote those over the fuller main point.

Also use suspense, even in everyday dull activity. Don't put all your cards on the table. Describe everything but one thing and then pop it on the reader later. I could make erasing chalk on a blackboard keep you on edge. (But that would be fiction. I don't know what type of writing you do.)

Not least, work harder. Rewrite until the thing makes you feel some electric charge from having written it. Try different ways. Even expository text can keep the reader engaged. Use more practical examples than mere telling of what to do. Stories and narratives however short always trump straight "go here and do this and you're done."

Hope this helps!

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I'd say don't. If your natural thought processes are as black-and-white as a line drawing of a plan view of a P-38 Lightning and your writing as concise, then don't mess about trying to dilute your unadorned thoughts with the useless ornaments of prose and analogy. For an example of a writer who did not indulge in much description nor fluffy character development, try looking at the first "Foundation" book by I.Asimov. His career is proof that plainspeak can ascend to literary acclaim, so trying to emulate a romantic poet is unnecessary.

If your thought processes really were "beige" then you'd probably be in a customer service team, and not in engineering.

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  • In what universe has Isacc Asimov ascended to literary acclaim? If you want a plain speaking writer who enjoys literary acclaim, cite Hemmingway, not Asimov. Asimov was a prodigious and inventive generator of pulp, and there is not a thing in the world wrong with that, but it does not add up to literary acclaim. – user16226 Feb 8 '17 at 15:49
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    @MarkBaker Please define the "literary acclaim" which Asimov did not reach. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Feb 12 '17 at 15:53
  • I mean being regarded my multiple serious commentators as being a work of literary merit -- something worth reading, regardless of genre, after the moment of its initial publication has passed. I mean an author who, if a group of academics, publishers, booksellers, or just informed readers were making up a 100 best books list, and you mentioned their name, people would say, "of course", or even "maybe", not "who?" – user16226 Feb 12 '17 at 16:06
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As others have said, find a balance between reading widely to observe the styles of other audiences and observing the world with your senses active.

I'd also like to add that the detail you give depends on the audience. Are you looking to write creative pieces, or improving your technical writing? I'd argue that the genre of writing dictates the level of detail you want to give. If you're writing, for example, a piece for intelligent layman, you'd write differently than, say, for experts in the field. To give an example, consider a popular book on infinity versus a textbook on ZFC axiomatic set theory. This is an extreme example, but I think it demonstrates the difference in style.

Related to that note, consider textbooks that you've read for courses that you've taken in the past. Each author, I'm sure, injects his or her own personality into the writing. Sometimes it can be helpful to offer a moment of levity when dealing with a heavy or complex topic. Also consider how description can provide an analogy for dealing with an abstract or highly technical concept. Being forced to describe these topics in an intuitive, everyday prose, I believe you'll see your vocabulary and style morph to suit that purpose.

You can apply these same ideas to creative writing, too. With creative writing, the language will admittedly be more flowery (at least most of the time), but the same strategies can be useful for conveying abstract ideas in a concrete manner filled with sensory detail. As you'll find, these skills transfer between any genre of writing.

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