Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get the Picture?

Descriptions. For some, they flow from the tongue with delicious words and savory skills of appealing to the senses. I am not that person. I'm the one that describes the house as either one or two stories and try to stay away from anything more specific than door, wall and window.

So, as a writer how do I master this craft and weave it into my writing? Well, I'm still working on it, so bear with me!

Descriptions are hard to master. I notice them in every book I read-because I usually skim over them. If I don't skim them-the writer rocks. If I don't even realize that the picture in my head has been subliminally placed there...Well, I want to achieve that! It happens so few times, that I can appreciate as both a reader and a writer how difficult it can be to bring your book to life with descriptions that don't bore your reader to tears.

The very first thing I believe to be important is this: It must be relevant. Do I really care what the floor looks like? Not necessarily unless it adds to the element of the plot. It could be a dark blood colored mahogany to indicate the mansion of a very rich and suspicious bachelor. Hmmm-killer? Count? However, in the hallways of a school-they tend to be pretty universal. Describe to me the sounds I'm hearing walking through the hallway or the reason I want to even know about the DARE poster on the wall. Well-because my MC is supposed to be finding a drug dealer/cook and the irony of a DARE poster on the antagonists wall wouldn't be lost on her. :0)

Small doses. I can't stand to read a book that gives me the entire lay of the home, internal decor and the yard all at once. Sneak it in there slowly. Don't give me the run down of your main character from hair color down to shoe size. It's okay if my picture evolves through the story.

Now, for the hard part. Finding the right words. This is really, really hard for descriptive vocabulary challenged people like myself. So, here are a few exercises you might want to try. It's something I'm trying out to see where it gets me. If you have any suggestions of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Find a picture in your photo album and try to describe it as if to someone that can't see. You can also actually turn this into a community service if you have a local clinic for the blind. They can usually use volunteers.

Twice a day describe the scene from a different window in your house. At night, dusk, morning, dawn, etc... Each time of day spills different rays of light and sometimes it might look like blood coming through a stained glass window or gold through the window of the brand new baby's room. And of course everything looks different at night.

Peruse the web for photos and take five minutes to write a descriptive. Go to websites that offer terms to describe the lay of land. Tourism sites for each state/some cities are great for this. In Tennessee a creek runs through the hills, whereas in the desert a wash winds its way through the sandy dunes. With only two different words, creek/wash, I've described two things in drastically different ways. It's also a good idea to try and learn decorating/fashion terms. For this I watch Project Runway, Trading Spaces, Travel channel and use the internet to find a good home description. :0) Heh heh. I get my tv time. I just keep note cards right on the side table. :-)

Write a short story of any experience that you might have had and describe each character, the way you felt, the place you were and anything else that comes to mind. Smells, sounds and instincts.

I hope this helps all of us. But if it doesn't-well you can cheat by visiting The Bookshelf Muse and checking out her settings/emotions thesauruses. And a specific post on why setting is more than a laundry list of things you see. You won't be sorry!!


  1. Loved this post!!!! Thanks for the links as well!

    I love using descriptions, but only as a reference guide, if I explain the look of the house it's only because later it will be of some importance. I always love extra advice though!

  2. I'm with you... and although how much description you put in may be genre specific (fantasy - may need more description because they often describe things not seen before) you can always implement these suggestions. Great job. I'm going to link to this post in my blog today.


  3. Great post! Description is a tough thing to master. Thanks for the exercises. They should be helpful.

  4. I'm with you on the description. But then I write YA contemporary, so I don't want to bog it down with description. I just add what I need to and move on.

    I love The Bookshelf Muse, too. I practically live on that site. :)

  5. Great post and great links. :) Thanks.

  6. Great post. As a reader, I like to be told enough to be able to make up the rest - a complete description is really too much, but if there is not enough description, it sometimes seems too sterile.

    I suck at descriptions myself, so am going to try some of your suggestions.

    Incidentally, I came here from Ann's blog.


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