Posted in descriptive, good description, good writing, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

Description Part 2: 6 Pitfalls of Description

It has already been determined some of the positive elements of good description (see Description Part 1: 3 Elements of Good Description), but there are some pitfalls of description to be aware of as well. Here are six to keep in mind.

  1. Never use description that will serve the character, instead use description that will serve the story. That means don’t throw in description for the sake of just having it. If the description doesn’t enhance or move the story forward then cut it out. It will only serve to be a distraction.
  2. Description slows down a scene, so avoid describing a story element in the midst of an action scene unless you want a pause in the momentum. An alternative if you want description in an action scene would be to vary the sentence structure to include the details, but ultimately you should strive for shorter sentences in an action scene.
  3. Stay away from the clichés. One of the biggest clichés in description is for the author to put a character in front of a mirror and describe what he or she sees in the mirror.
  4. Be specific in your description, but not too much. Do not let the details limit the reader’s imagination. Be vague enough to let the reader paint a picture for themselves.
  5. Avoid purple prose, or overly flowery descriptive language. This sort of writing might be deemed acceptable for some types of works, or in older writings, but readers these days are looking for direct and concise writing.
  6. Unless a character’s clothing has a direct link to the characteristics or the story, it should be avoided, because it is nothing more than a distraction.

Example: The man sat across from me in the crowded diner. It was hard to ignore the gut wrenching stench coming off of him and the splattered stains on his tattered clothes. It was obvious to any as if he had a neon sign around his neck reading, “I’m homeless.”

This example shows a vague picture what the man is wearing, but it is used to describe his situation more than anything. The reader doesn’t need to know if he was wearing blue jeans or red T-shirt. It is enough to know that he has a stench about him, he has stains on his clothes, and the clothes are in tatters. The reader will use his/her imagination to fill in the blanks.

Check out the last part of this series…
Description Part 3: The Secret to Good Description

Posted in characterization, descriptive, good description, how to be more descriptive, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

Description Part 1: 3 Elements of Good Description

Description allows the reader to visualize the people, places, settings, and objects in your story. Description is important because good, effective description paints a vivid picture that immerses the reader into your story, which allows for a deeper experience for the reader. A well written description moves the story forward and adds to characterization. There are three main elements of good description.

  1. Specific well written detail– Be specific about what you want to say. Less is more, so find the right word or words to show detail. Stay away from ambiguous descriptions like suddenly, look, like, good. These words aren’t giving you the biggest bang for your buck. (For more about words to avoid check out Grammar Guru: Words to Avoid.) Also go a little deeper and use sensory detail. The use of sensory detail detail is a key element in good description. Try to use all when writing; sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Note: Do not rely too heavily on sight itself, instead try to use some of the other four for variety and depth.

  1. Revelation of the characters inner life– A story will be more balanced and descriptive of the characters if their inner life or struggle is depicted. Go inside your character’s “head” and show the reader what’s going on, what thoughts are going on.

Note: When choosing whose point of view to write in, remember that describing something from a certain character’s point of view can change the whole feel of a story. Figure out who will make the story more lively and entertaining to read.

  1. Motivation, the impulse that drives the character– Motivation is essential to convincing the reader that they should care about your character. It is when you can reach out to the reader and show them what lies beneath.

Want to be more descriptive? Look around you at the people, places, and things in a new way. Notice not just the obvious details, but the less obvious, subconscious details. Keep a notebook of the things that stand out and you’ll be amazed at how your new look at the world will reshape the way you write.

Check out the next 2 parts of this series…

Description Part 2: 6 Pitfalls of Description
Description Part 3: The Secret to Good Description