By Ane Mulligan
Description serves more purpose than simple describing a place or person. It can enhance or detract from a scene. It can be used to deepen characterization or confuse.
Here’s some questions to ask yourself as you write:
1) Will the description draw my readers into the scene?
2) Can they picture it? Can you picture it?
3) Does the description include all five senses, including texture?
4) Is there any needless description that seems out of place?
5) Is the description filtered through the POV character?
6) Is the description concrete and not subjective?
Here are some examples:
1. Jane watched a bird build its nest in a tree outside her window.
Better: A finch carried a stick to its nest, poking it this way and that. She finally discarded it and few off in search of better fit.
In your story, what if your main character was struggling with a decision? What if she needed to change her mind about something? That bit of description fits in perfectly. It shows her inner struggle by using the finch.
2. Bill entered the room and sat on the taupe, chenille sofa. Several gold-fringed throw pillows nestled at his back. A floral scented potpourri shared the glass-topped coffee table with a green and gold marbled ashtray.
If Bill is an interior designer, then this works. Otherwise, it’s not what a man would notice. The sofa would be beige or tan. Forget texture (unless you’re talking about the smooth, shiny finish of a Chevy Silverado truck). He’d see the pillows only as an annoyance, tossing them aside. He might even think that bowl on the coffee table should be holding peanuts instead of dry grass.
Make sure the description is filtered through the POV character. If you struggle writing a man’s POV, eavesdrop on some men and take notes.
3. Elizabeth stood in the doorway of the ballroom, intimidated by its grandeur. Four massive crystal chandeliers sparkled, tossing shafts of light to the gold-gilt, hand carved moulding on the ceiling and reflected in the ornately framed mirrors that surrounded the room. The dancers’ images reflected in the mirrors too, a blur of blue, silver, pink, black and gold.
Too many adjectives? The could be tamed. For instance do we need both the gold-gilt and the hand-carved to describe the moulding? Would it be just as good this way?
Elizabeth stood in the doorway of the ballroom, intimidated by its grandeur. Four massive crystal chandeliers sparkled, tossing shafts of light to the gold-gilt moulding on the ceiling and reflected in the mirrors that surrounded the room. The dancers’ images reflected in the mirrors too, a blur of blue, silver, pink, black and gold.
This is where readers of historical fiction might differ from contemporary readers. They tend to want more detailed descriptions since this world isn’t part of their everyday one.
Whether contemporary, historical, or fantasy, the reader needs to “see” the story world. They need to feel it. To sense it as the character would. Using the six questions above will help you get it right.
Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She’s a novelist, a humor columnist, and playwright. She believes chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and resides in Sugar Hill, GA. You can find Ane at www.anemulligan.com or Amazon author page.