Mastering Description – Part 3

Whether you’re using “show, don’t tell”, layering description with added information, using sensory details, or carefully choosing the right words for a scene, description is integral to storytelling. You’re creating something for the reader to imagine, something that is visual, something that creates a sense of place, a sense of mood and a sense of emotion. It brings your fictional world to life.

Description isn’t just the stuff that happens in the foreground of the story. It’s also about the little details in the background that are often overlooked, yet make all the difference. Writers often use subtle brushstrokes or the hidden nuances to prompt the reader. For example, say there’s a scene that takes place outside by a farmstead. The foreground details might show the characters, their expressions, and the immediate area, but also, in the background, a flickering light in the distance is mentioned, glimpsed through the trees by one of the characters. This is a subtle hint, but also acts as foreshadowing.

Readers love visual markers, which is why description is about appealing to their emotions and sensibilities. As the writer, you can make your descriptions vivid, colourful, and exquisite even, but you can also make them subtle. It’s more about what you want to reveal to the reader, and why. In other words, what effect do you want to create with the reader? Do you want them to feel tension, drama, a sense of happiness, fear or maybe sadness? What do you want then to feel? Once you know what effect you want, and how you want your reader to feel, then you can write description that creates the right effect.

Description can capture so many things, but mastering it isn’t difficult. It simply requires the writer to understand its purpose, and to know what to convey to the reader in that moment. Lifting the narrative from the page and creating a picture in your reader’s mind will become second nature.

Remember that description needs sensory details, visual details and emotional details. Use different prompts like the senses – colours, shapes, scents, contrasts and textures, sibilance and rhythm and the right descriptive verbs. That way, you will always show rather than tell.


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