5 x 5 Writing Tips: Description

Description is the key factor that lets your reader understand the world you’re building for them. Consequently it needs to be sufficiently detailed without being laboriously overwritten.  Consequently, the first tip here is:

  1. Find the balance between too much description and too little.  Read other titles in similar genres to yours. Use the writing of others to gauge as to whether or not you’ve got it right. Also rely on your gut. If you’re getting bored with the description, your reader is going to feel the same.
  2. Be aware that a lot of the description is going to come at the front of the story. If you tell me on page 300 that the main character is wearing glasses, I’m going to have to reimagine quite a lot of the scenes I’ve already read, whilst restructuring the protagonist as a bespectacled character. It’s not a great inconvenience – but it’s like going to drag me out of the fictional world you’ve created.
  3. Where possible, use all of the traditional FIVE senses to describe a scene. As writers we tend to rely on sight and sound and everything else gets overlooked in the passionate heat of creating a good story. Try to include taste, smell and touch and your reader will be thrilled by the unexpected sensory bonus.
  4. Remember – aside from describing to illustrate, you can also describe to influence.  For example, a big, burly bear of a man is likely to seem more friendly than a huge, hulking giant. If you want to subtly influence your readers’ opinions, description is the place to do it.
  5. Readers appreciate specificity. If your character is walking down a road lined with yellow flowers, tell us what those flowers are so we can picture it more accurately. Are they daffodils, buttercups, roses or ragwort? The addition of a specific label make it substantially easier for your reader to picture the image you want to share.

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