Writing Descriptions

Writing descriptions can be a difficult part of writing, and everyone will have their own style. Some people are more minimalistic, some people go into very deep detail. Some people give more straightforward descriptions, some people prefer more poetic ones. None of these styles are correct or incorrect. However, there are a few general bits of advice that many writers give.

Write What You Know

Most writers recommend writing what you know. The more familiar you are with something, the easier it is to write. For example, the more familiar you are with what it’s like to have a cat, the easier it will be to write about. You’ll know that they have a habit of wanting to be up high, and that they have a fondness for slowly pushing things off of these high surfaces.

If you don’t know about something, the best thing you can do is try to experience it or research it. If you have no idea how to ride a horse and you’re trying to write about horseback riding, try getting at least basic lesson or two if you have the resources to do so. Research is extremely important to writing, and can help with not only plot, settings, and characters but also with descriptions.

Show, Don’t Tell

With writing, it’s best to show rather than tell. For instance, instead of saying someone is nervous, often it’s better to describe them shifting about and looking around warily. When you show something, rather than just flat out tell the reader, it doesn’t just come off better. A lot of the time, showing it can also reveal something about the character, the situation, or the environment. Here are two examples:

Sally grinned at James. She could tell he was nervous with Molly in the room, as he obviously had a crush on her.

Sally grinned at James to see him shifting nervously. She watched as he kept glancing at Molly, only to turn a tad red and look away when she noticed.

In the first example, the reader is told and not shown. The writing is much less smooth and tells us less about what’s going on. Sure, James is nervous. But how does he express being nervous? Now, in the second example, the reader actually gets to see James’ nervousness, they don’t just hear about it. They get a better picture of what’s going on and it makes things seem more real. It also adds a bit of characterization to Sally, Molly, and James. It lets the reader know that James likes Molly, and that Sally finds James’ awkwardness with this fact amusing. It also informs the reader about how James acts when he’s nervous, and lets them know that Molly is indeed noticing the looks she’s getting from him. She might not know what they mean, but she at least knows they’re happening.

Final Advice

When writing descriptions, it’s always good to remember that no matter how well you describe something, people will always see it a different way. They’ll see a slightly different shade of green for the rug, or the room will have different dimensions, or the character’s hair will be of a slightly different length or style. A person’s background and experiences and the rest of their unique psychology affects how they see the real world. And there will be a lot more variation on something that can only be seen in the mind’s eye.


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