Tips On Descriptions

– Here are some tips on the daunting task of description and descriptive writing. I’ve compiled my most straight-forward and useful advice on the subject to aid you in your writing.

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Be Honest In Your Prose

Don’t go back and edit each sentence with a thesaurus in hand. Put clarity before prestige and pride in your skills as a wordsmith. Chances are, your reader will notice a pretentious, misplaced adjective more often than they’ll complain about clear, accessible language. Your job is to describe and create an image, not impress the reader with how many words you can look up in a dictionary.

Be Clever About It

Description shouldn’t be obvious or overbearing to the reader. There shouldn’t be large blocks of description. Much like backstory, description should be sprinkled in periodically, when the detail becomes necessary, and at about the same pace as someone were noticing it in the moment. For instance, if you entered a room, you wouldn’t take 30 minutes to notice the pattern on a silver hairbrush sitting across the room on a dark stained oak desk from around the 1870s if your calculations are correct. You’d notice the color of the paint on the walls, whether the blinds were open or closed, and whether anyone was in there. The rest would be noticed during lulls in conversation or in between unrelated thoughts. The reader should never have a second where the thought “wow, when’s the conversation gonna start” crosses their mind. 

Metaphors & Similes

Using figures of speech are really effective when they’re pulled off, but they must be very accurate and well executed. Anyone can say “My man was a fish”, insinuating that he’s slimy and cold, but unless you surround that with a clever use of other description and context, it won’t go over well on its own. Approach these very cautiously, and when the moment is optimal. 

Moderation

Learn where the line is when it comes to where to stop incorporating more precise detail. As Stephen King said, “it’s not a question of how to; it’s a question of how much to”.

Show, Don’t Tell (Mostly)

In most cases, you want to describe what’s happening to the reader through imagery in order to form a clear scene in their head, rather than telling them what’s going on as if you’re rehashing a story over brunch, because the latter falls flat very quickly and loses the reader’s attention/engagement. I have a full article on this that goes over pretty much every “but what about-” you’re thinking of.


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