Tips for Writing Descriptions

Descriptions bring our stories to life, but they aren’t always easy to craft. We want to paint a vivid scene for our readers without slowing the story down or boring them with info dumps. So what are some good tips for writing descriptions? Let’s take a look.

  • Give it a purpose. Whatever you put in your story has to serve a purpose and be there for a reason (other than it sounds pretty). This is especially important for descriptive writing. It should build your story world, develop your characters, and move the plot forward.
  • Follow Chekov’s rule. If you plant a description in the story (like a gun on the wall), it must pay off later and come into play. This also means we need to foreshadow if we are going to use something later. And it also means if something is not important, do not spend a lot of time describing it (which makes it seem important, thereby frustrating the reader when it doesn’t come into play later).
  • Filter through character perspective. If your character is the son of a billionaire, he will notice different things than a working class man. Or a housewife. Or a middle schooler. Match your descriptions to your character POV.
  • Don’t go overboard. If you’re trying too hard to sound poetic and meaningful and going over the top with your descriptions, you’re probably in purple prose territory. This is a mistake. It slows the plot down, kills your pacing, and exasperates your readers who don’t want paragraph after paragraph of descriptions. Descriptions are good, but don’t exaggerate.
  • Use all five senses to immerse your reader in the scene. For most of us sight comes naturally to our writing. Even the word imagery has image in it. But it’s important to include the other senses as well. Smells evoke memories and sounds fill the world around us. Don’t neglect the other senses that can help round out your world.
  • Be specific and concrete. Avoid vague and general descriptions like “she was pretty.” That tells us nothing about how she actually looks. Is she dark? Fair? Tall? Delicate? Sultry? Innocent? Give your reader a clear picture. And use concrete nouns. Say roses instead of flowers and worn, leather armchair instead of just chair. Watch your descriptions come to life.

These are just a few tips to help you strengthen your descriptive writing. What tips do you have? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

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