Confession: I don’t actually have five ‘secrets,’ per se. But I have a bunch of stuff I think people should remember when writing description.
So don’t actually take my advice.
Just read it, like it, comment on it … then forget it.
It’s best for you and the posterity who would otherwise have to read through your awful descriptions right in the middle of your amazing novels.
Seriously, though, ladies and gents, I’m doing my best here to tell you everything I know about description.
Well, not everything.
Just five things … to keep in mind … when describing stuff.
And by stuff I mainly mean scenery, people, etc.
So. Let’s get going.
1: Describe the Action
I know people are always talking about not using too many adjectives (at least, people are always telling that to me), but add a couple adjectives to an action. For instance, “She picked up the phone with her slender fingers and place it against her ear while she dialed, brushing back her shiny black hair to do so.” See? You just got in that she had slender fingers AND that she has shiny black hair. Cool, right?
WriteDESCRIBE What You Know
I get sick of hearing this. What’s the imagination for if this is true? But with description, I’d say this definitely applies! I know, I know. Not all of us can take a trip to Scotland or Belgium or wherever your novel is set. I sure can’t! That’s what Pinterest is for. 😉 But … oftentimes it’s nice to describe the cool sea breeze which you know so well from visits to the beach, the cry of the seagulls, the way the waves crashing in your ears is peaceful and exciting all at once. If you know it, your descriptions will be all that much more vivid. Also, describe what the readers know. Try using comparisons that anyone will get. I mean, don’t go around saying “it was about as big as a tree,’ but … 😄
3: Read the Classics
Admit it: many classics have the best description! Sure, a little excessive sometimes … but still. Best. Description. Ever. I particularly recommend Elizabeth Goudge, Gene Stratton Porter, and Charlotte Bronte for amazing (oft-excessive …) description. No need to imitate the length, of course. I suggest taking a portion of description from a classic and editing it. Make it more compact, more modern. Rewrite it in your style. I find I automatically edit books in my head as I read anyway. 😄
4: Use All Your Senses
The way to ‘show not tell’ in description is to use your senses rather than just telling people what things look like. I don’t have much to say as Morgan Dusky @Studies in Character wrote a particularly brilliant post a while back about this (and description in general). You can find it here.
5: Don’t Go Overboard
As I mentioned before, the classics have amazing description … for paragraphs … and paragraphs … and paragraphs. Your readers are gonna shut the book! I know, I know. Thousands of people apparently waded through the classics … but that’s because they’re old. People used to think that level of description was a sign of good writing. Because if you’re bored, obviously it must be a good book. And most people just read them now because they’re classics.
Or because they see the hidden gems behind pages worth of description … like me … Do you intend to publish your books a hundred years from now when people can appreciate them? I thought not …
And that’s honestly the best I got! What do you think? Am I spouting nonsense or am I making sense? How do you handle description? Do you describe stuff too much? Too little? How do you fit description in?