CTS Entry: Prickly

Pine cone
Pine needle branches
Rose stems
Dry grass
Crown-of-thorns bush
Sea urchin
Christmas tree
Blow fish
Prickly pears
Unshaven legs
Holly leaves
Facial stubble
Fox tails
Raspberry canes
Straw flowers
Sunflower centers
Dry grass/sea grass
Broom tree
Barley heads
Buzz cut hair


Woolen blankets/clothing
Barb-b-que brush
Cat or dog brush
Barbed wire
Fraying rope
Freshly cut lawn
Bottle brushes, toilet brushes
Dish scrubbers
Straw brooms
Hay bales
Vacuum brush head
Lint Brush
Wire brush
Crushed glass


spiny, thistly, nettlesome, barbed, bristly, briery, echinate, pricky, spiky, thorny, spurred, burred, burry, quilled, prickly-edged, stubbly

Describing texture in a story creates intimacy between reader and character, and can even cause an emotional trigger for both. To anchor the reader in the scene, make sure comparisons and contrasts are clear and relatable, and within the scope of the narrator's life knowledge and experience.

A weak example:

My hand reached out and I couldn't seem to stop it--into the cage and toward my brother's curled-up hedgehog. Its bristles were like warm needles ready to pierce my skin. Cupping it in my hand gave me the impression of dozens of hairbrush bristles making their gentle impressions in my fingers. Footsteps! I put the little guy down as fast as I could and ran out before I got caught.

What's wrong with this example?

The descriptions are imprecise. First the hedgehog's bristles feel like piercing sharp needles, then they're as gentle as hairbrush bristles. The word choices give conflicting images that will make it hard for the reader to fall completely into the scene. Since one of the purposes of sensory description is to draw the reader into the story, it's important to be as precise as possible with word choices and comparisons.

A strong example:

As the sun ducked behind late afternoon cloud, I hoisted the last square bale from the field onto the truck. Done, at last. I pulled off my work gloves and swiped at the sweat and chaff clinging to my neck. My tired smile faltered as I eyed the left stack, hanging half a foot over the lip of the tailgate. I could just imagine the bales tumbling out during the bumpy ride back to the stables.

Without thinking, I rammed my shoulder against the tower to shove it forward, completely forgetting that I'd taken my shirt off hours ago. A hiss of pain escaped my lips as stiff, golden bristles jabbed at my skin, leaving behind a nasty pattern of red scratches and punctures.

Why does this example work?

The word choice is accurate, making the texture clear both through sight and touch.


Mary Witzl said...

It's interesting: I could SMELL the hay while I was reading your second example; I felt all sweaty and sticky and prickly, too.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks! Here in Texas we have lots of prickly things around!

PurpleClover said...

Awesome! Makes me think I need to go back through my ms thinking about contradictions and correct descriptions!

Yat-Yee said...

Welcome to my blog and I'm digging yours. What a fantastic way to charge our minds. Textures are great. I am constantly touching things (like my children) and in food, I care as much about texture as I do about taste and aroma.

Cindy said...

Thanks for the example. I'm going to keep this in mind as I work on my next manuscript.

Robyn said...

I was thinking about this today. You made me think. Thanks. :)

LadyFi said...

Love the two examples of the use of prickly!

Vivian said...

Good use of texture. Very helpful. Thanks!