By Shelley Widhalm
I’m addicted to fancy coffee because there are so many aspects to the experience.
A bit of sweet with the bitter of espresso, the heady smell of freshly ground espresso beans and the smooth texture give coffee that appeal of wanting more.
My excuse, I have to admit, is to tie coffee to writing.
Espresso and Writing
Espresso is an Italian-style dark, rich brew pressed out for a smooth finish. It’s the base ingredient in café lattes (my favorite is an iced caramel latte, summer or winter), cappuccinos and macchiatos.
To celebrate Espresso Day, have a shot of espresso to mark its invention around the 1900s and pick up your pen, no excuses, to start describing the world around you, helped by the extra alertness from the caffeine.
It’s a matter of wanting more, such as two or three shots of espresso in the small latte. That’s like adding description to plain writing to make the process fun with the key ingredients of observing, absorbing and noticing details. Use the senses to observe and then choose words carefully to absorb, making sure every word has a purpose to move the writing along.
Achieving great writing is similar to using fresh beans in espresso—if they’re old, the taste is bitter. Descriptions that are trite, cliché-ridden and lacking detail can suffice but won’t give the reader that buzz that heightens the experience of drinking and reading.
To get more technical (but still keeping it fun), verbs are a key component of description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. For example, “the caramel sauce drizzled in a wavy path down the whipped cream” is more descriptive than “whip with caramel.”
Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “extra skinny, extra hot, light foam, light whip latte with extra caramel.” Just say you’re picky.
What to Avoid
There are a few other things to avoid in descriptions, such as:
- Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. For example, saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours without caffeine.”
- Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
- Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Coffee and coffee cup are general nouns, as opposed to a pumpkin spice latte and an orange mug with leaves on it.
Description is what fills the pages of a story or gives a poem form. Without it, the action falls flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this. Or the poetic devices would be readily apparent without that wonder of captured memory and observation.
That’s why I like my coffee fancy.