Descriptive writing. It's important. It's how your readers can picture where events are taking place, it's the mode of writing that allows you to convey important pieces of information, and it's how you can show off your epic writing skills.
And, yet, descriptive writing seems to be a concept that eludes most. Many writers feel the need to take two paragraphs to describe a sunset to match their character's mood when they could have simply used one sentence. Nobody likes the writer who cooks up cheesy descriptions or doles out paragraphs of irrelevant details. Don't be that writer. How? Here, let me help you:
Chekhov's principle. Use it. Or at least utilize it to pull a MacGuffin.
2. Match the voice of the narrator. Generally, a story is told through the eyes of one of your characters. Make it a point not to have your character notice something out of his/her personality. For instance, say you have three characters in a bedroom. The tired one is probably only going to notice the bed and how comfortably warm the room feels. The paranoid one is going to be happy that the windows give them a good view of the open meadow, making it impossible for intruders to come unnoticed. And the picky one is going to be annoyed with the creaking floorboards and the fact that the dusty armoire isn't even mahogany. This is probably one of the more important parts of descriptive writing. Unless you are using omniscient POV, be very careful about having your characters notice and describe details that are outside of their personality. I recently made the mistake of having one of my rather ferocious male elves describe something as "gauzy periwinkle," which doesn't at all make sense for his character. Be better than me and don't write dumb things like that.
4. Match the mood of the story. This is very similar to tip #2. You never want your description to be at a different pace from the plot. Are you writing battle scene? Then use shorter sentences and fierce words that accurately show the brutality and confusion of the battle field. Is your character having a surreal moment? Then take your time describing the beautiful way the sunlight is beaming through the window, sending shattered rays of light dancing across the ceiling. The last thing you want to do is writing a description that pulls your reader out of the scene.
5. Play to your reader's senses. People, readers in particular, have fairly vivid imaginations, so use this to your advantage. Don't say that the room feels deathly cold. Make your reader shiver by describing how the cold leaks into your very bones and turns your breath into icy clouds. Describe how a doctor's office smells like latex gloves and cleaner. Take note of the whispering sound meadow grasses make, and don't rush past the feel of rain against your skin. Make your reader see, hear, and feel what your character is seeing, hearing, and feeling.
6. Don't be afraid to use symbolism and figures of speech. Just don't overuse them. And don't you dare write "Her hair was of silk" because everybody does that and it wasn't even very good in the first place. But, honestly, figurative writing is one of the most helpful forms of writing when it comes to getting a picture across to your readers. Flowers crushed underneath a carriage wheel can show a character's broken love. A downpour of rain can be personified as vengeful or purifying. Hyperbole can explain to your reader just how enormous and daunting that mountain really is.
7. Be ready to slow down and spend some time being descriptive. Writing a good piece of description takes work, so be willing to put some extra effort into it. Don't just say, "Err...ghosts are transparent." Oh, really? It's very clear to see that all this time spent writing hasn't been a complete waste. "Ghosts are transparent." Dig deeper. Work harder. Make Snape proud.
8. Read comic books. This is a tip you're probably not going to read anywhere else, and I'm honestly not sure why. Comic books handle description better than novels do. Some might say that this is obviously because they get to use pictures as their mode of description. Not true. Comic books go out of their way to make their illustrations match the mood of the story, appeal to the reader, and move the plot along. They pull out all of the stops: symbolism, appealing to the senses, using only relevant images. The good ones do, anyway. I recommend The Dark Knight Returns to see how to use symbolism and setting to compliment a story. Many of Scott Snyder's Batman comic books are good for this, too. What I'm trying to say is this: Read Batman. Batman can fix anything. Why? *dramatic pause* Because he's Batman!! What? You didn't see that coming?
Do you have any tips to add for improving descriptive writing? Leave them below! And don't forget to tell me about an author or novel that stood out to you because of the well done descriptions!
7 Tips for Choosing Your Character's Appearance
7 Tips for Writing Emotions Into Your Story
Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, please don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every week!
Some links are Amazon Affiliate links. Thank you for your support!