CSD, R.U.E. and XYZ

New writers are often introduced to acronyms, writing rules and lists that serve to remind us of our writing goals. I’ve known lots of writers who put these on cards and pin them up around their writing space. Not a bad idea, considering that when we draft we’re bent on word-count, caught up in the moment. If you’re like me, you may need a gentle reminder of the things that make writing memorable, scenic and taut.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s start with acronyms.
CSD The first one my students often hear is “CSD,” which simply means Concrete Sensory Detail. Concrete refers to specific, i.e., not a car but a 65 Mustang. Sensory denotes the five senses. Detail means the small vivid things that help a reader experience your continuous and vivid fictional dream. Writers are encouraged to use plenty of CSD, but be careful: Overuse leads to slow draggy pacing (the reader’s stuck looking at the scenery while you describe the room, when reader would much rather see action.) and the feeling that nothing matters because everything is described. When you use CSD (and you should) think of the things you notice about someone who walks into the room. Very likely, you take in a few details that seem to strike you as more obvious or that have bearings on that character’s body language, attitude or emotions. Paint your descriptions in this way, allowing the details to become a part of the story rather than a travelogue. If you find that you are clumping description all in one place (as in our room description) and action/dialogue in another, consider weaving the two together by allowing the characters to utilize the surroundings.
Instead of: The room was large, with high ceilings and the finest French furnishings.
Use weaving and CSD to change it to this: Deanna stepped into the room, so cavernous her voice echoed. She had to lean back to see the ornate ceiling. Have a seat,” a voice said. She sank into a plush chair, awed by the posh French furnishings.
The second example isn’t Pulitzer material, but it shows the principle of showing the CSD and other elements by letting the character move, speak/think and react in the scene.
RUE stands for Resist the Urge to Explain. Why would anyone wish to explain? The urge to explain the scene in terms of how the character feels or reacts often leads to unimaginative and boring “telling,” and can be spotted by homing in on “ly” words or prepositional phrases tacked on to “showing.” A common error is for the writer to show very well, then add-on a “telly” phrase in case the reader doesn’t get it. EX: She clenched her jaw in anger. Note the prepositional phrase that tells us what the writer already showed by describing what people do when they are angry.
Try This!
Choose three Concrete Sensory Details to describe a person or object–and try to use senses other than visual or auditory. Taste, touch and smell are often neglected but powerful clues that evoke readers’ emotions.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “CSD, R.U.E. and XYZ

  1. I am really enjoying your practical posts. Much of what you said is common sense, but we often get caught up, as you say, in our own world and don’t recognize it when we over ecxpleian etc. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for reminding me about the senses in my writing! I hope to go back over my scenes and look for those times when I can show rather than tell, and by using senses. Great post!

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