Writing Tip Wednesday–Description

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Okay, so far we’ve covered three of the BIG FIVE areas for fiction writing: Point of View, Show vs. Tell; and Dialogue. Today we tackle the fourth one–description. In all fairness I need to tell you–I don’t like description. Not when I read or when I write. A little bit–yes. But any more than that and I get bored. And that means I skip that part of the story.

So when I write, I do the same thing. So much so that during my many revisions, I usually devote one of my revisions solely to adding description. I suppose some genres tolerate and even want more of the flowery descriptions, but I write suspense. That means, the readers are all about what’s happening not what the sky looks like in every chapter!

But having said all that, I still need to say that description is important–even crucial to your story!

The reader can only see and know what we tell them. So…every scenes needs some description. Or how will the reader know that the house is a log cabin in the woods rather than a palatial estate? Or how will they know the main character has beautiful red curls instead of a short blonde pixie cut? So you can see now that description is important.

I’ve seen some writers begin their chapters or scene with a paragraph or two of description and then start the action. That’s one way to do it but it’s not usually the way I do it. I weave in description through the dialogue, the action and a sentence here and there that will help the reader picture the scene in their own mind.

Another thing to keep in mind is to use all the senses as you describe a scene. Instead of relying on sight and sound only, include what the character is smelling, touching, and tasting? Those can add an extra layer of depth to your manuscript. But a note of caution, don’t include every sense in every scene. As with salt, a little bit of sensory description goes a long way.

My last point about description is to think about how important a character, a  location, or whatever you are describing is to your story. If it’s important, then take more time with it. If it’s not that important a sentence or two will be more than enough to place the reader in the scene.

Oops, I have another last point about description–we’ve all seen sunsets!

For some reason, writers love to spend oodles of time describing sunsets and sunrises. But it’s not necessary. A sentence or two is all that’s needed. In days gone by, readers and editors may have tolerated the one to two page descriptions of a sunrise, but not any more. Readers want action not another description of a sunset!

So for the writers out there, do you like description? What’s your advice to other writers about description?