How to write descriptively

Photo by Diogo Nunes on Unsplash

Description is a powerful tool in writing. It can hook a reader in. It can paint pictures in their mind, and make them see things using mere words. With imagery, an author can create the greatest dreams and most horrific nightmares. But how does one go about writing descriptively? Here are some questions you can ask yourself.

  1. Is it necessary? Arbitrary descriptions do not tend to be appreciated, so keep them to a minimum. Ask yourself, what is essential for an understanding of this scene? If the characters later escape via a hidden trapdoor, make sure to mention early on the carpet that covers it. Overall, you should not stress about if a reader will imagine a scene the exact same way you did. You cannot possibly convey a perfect picture of what you see in your mind, so give the reader the essentials and let them fill in the gaps.
  2. What’s most important? What your description focuses on can give different messages. For instance, you could focus on her tightened fists and glaring eyes, or you could focus on the fact she is a four year old currently dressed up in a princess costume and upset that the new puppy tore her tights. It should be noted that the way you frame your writing can manipulate people’s opinions. Know what you want your reader to feel or think.
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3. How much is appropriate for your writing? Description is like putting powdered sugar on a Belgian waffle. Some people love it and pile it on (*cough* me). Some do not like it at all. It is a matter of taste. There is no way for you to know how much imagery people will want to read because opinions vary, so try to have the amount of description you write be the same as the amount you prefer. All authors have their own style and voice. You need to find yours.

4. Are you letting your readers use their imagination? Avoid getting hyper specific. Trust their minds to fill in the gaps. I have heard that description should be kept to a sentence or two; however, this rule of thumb can be adjusted to match your personal writing style. Nevertheless, be careful not to bore the reader with overly long descriptions. Remember, description is best when sprinkled in with action. That way, the story is not put on pause while something is described. Which is better? She has grey eyes, black hair, and is wearing red nail polish. Or Her grey eyes study me up and down as I shift uncomfortably under her calculating gaze. All the while, she twirls a lock of jet black hair around a red tipped finger, as if bored. Now the reader gets a physical description along with an idea of the character’s personality.

5. Do you know what you are describing? Character’s will interact with each other and their setting. Therefore, description lays the foundation for said interactions. For example, if you are describing a sword, do you know what type of sword it is? This could effect how it is used in fights. Unquestionably, the details give you information to use later and may inspire ideas. Additionally, everyone says “write what you know”. You can always learn more, especially with the internet. Research what you are writing about and your story will benefit.

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Gwenyth Nickolenko

Gwenyth Nickolenko

Book blogger, aspiring author, reader, and coffee lover. Updates weekly.

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