Thursday, August 04, 2011

Creating effective description

Since I was in grade school, I’ve known that writing was my passion and that description is my forte.

Fortunately, writing description in scenes comes naturally to me. So much so that I’ve had to learn to back off on description because it slowed down my story.

I imagine there are as many approaches to writing description as there are writers, but I’m going to give you some of my methods:

Imagine you’re the character in your book. Put yourself in the middle of the action.

What’s going on? What emotion are you feeling? Happy? Scared? Surprised? Angry? Take that emotion and describe it without using a cliché. In my current novel, my character is experiencing an unexpected occurrence: Her heart hammered like the wings of a bird escaping a beast of prey, and her mouth grew as dry as an unfulfilled dream.

Take a deep breath. Is there anything in particular you character can smell? Something pleasant or something foul? Describe that: Her nostrils flinched as she smelled the acrid odor of harsh soap and starch.

Is a breeze cooling your character’s skin like a menthol kiss? Or is it so hot his freckles are melting off of his face?

What does she see? Describe it in a way to deepen her characterization. My current character is a mom, and she filters what she sees through that point of view: The boy’s messy hair stood in the wind. His face was red and his ears redder. The tattered coat hanging from his thin shoulders was missing buttons and looked insufficient to warm his scrawny body. Margaret fished into her left pocket and felt a coin. She walked back to the boy and held out the money. His fist flew through the air and grabbed it.

Is there any noise in the background? The shrill call of a bluejay? The staccato beat of a neighbor’s lawn sprinkler? Try to incorporate that description into your character’s emotion. The shrill call of a bluejay frightened her. The starch came out of her spine as she glanced over her shoulder. OR The staccato beat of the neighbor’s sprinkler kept rhythm with his pulse. He had to figure out which way she’d gone.

Is he eating? What does it taste like? Again incorporate it into your character’s mood. The news fell on him like a wall of fire, and the bite of tiramisu he’d savored a moment before tasted like chalk.

These are simply some suggestion to get you thinking. Hope it did the trick!


Jaime Wright said...

I do this a LOT when I'm writing and you're so RIGHT! :) It helps so much to insert yourself into the setting. The smells, the sounds ... all five senses on overdrive. Great post today! :)

Megan DiMaria said...

Thanks, Jaime!

I think we writers spend a lot of time in our heads--when we're away from our computers--thinking about writing.

DenaNetherton said...

Thanks, Megan. Nice post on description. I read so many books that disappoint because they lack enough creative descriptions.