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The Art of Description

Description really is the bulk of a story, and a lot of people try and sidestep it as much as they can. I must admit, I used to be one of those people. Description would take me much longer to write, and I'd have to really think about it, so I'd tend to whizz past where I could. I'm a type, type, type and never stop kind of person. But it really makes a difference when you slow down and take a look.

The perfect balance with description can sometimes be hard to find. Too much and the reader will get bored and start skimming (guilty). Too little and the reader won't be able to picture what's going on. You want your reader to live in your story, but you don't want them to drown there. There is no strict rule about what's too much or too little. Personally, a full A5 page is too much for me. If a book's got a whole page of description, I'm afraid I will skim over it. I want action, action, action! Sorry, Bram Stoker, but you kept describing trees over and over, and all I wanted to know about was the scary vampire!

To make sure you've got the basics covered, check you've described at least a little bit of your character's appearance, their surroundings, and any events that are taking place. Also, make sure you're 'showing' the reader and not 'telling' them. If you were showing a friend around your new house you wouldn't point to your grandmother's china plates and say, "they're old". I'm sure they can work that out for themselves. Your friends aren't stupid and neither are your readers.

This mostly irritates me when people are trying (and failing) at writing emotion. Never state an emotion! Especially in your main character. Don't say, "I am so frustrated about people stating emotions", say, "the idea that some people still state emotions in their writing makes my skin crawl". Don't say, "I am overjoyed when people describe emotions", say, "when people describe emotions, a ball of light comes to life in my chest, and I can't help the smile on my face". See? You will achieve so much more this way. The reader will be living in the world with you instead of jumping up on their tiptoes, desperate to press their faces against the window.

And no clichés. No. None. Don't use them. They're so lazy. Show your reader you're a skilled writer. Please never say something was as "quiet as a mouse". When I read that--or any other cliché--nothing happens in my brain. It doesn't even register in my head. You need your readers to take notice. Plus, there are hundreds of things that are quieter than mice.

Description isn't as hard as you think it is, as long as you put in the time and effort to get it right.


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