How to Describe Things in Writing

 

man scratching his head

One question I get a lot is, “I’m not very good at describing things when I write, do you have any advice?”

Play to your strengths

If you’ve read any of my books, you’ll notice I never really tell the reader what my characters look like beyond “she was beautiful” or “he was scrawny”, I let the reader decide those details on their own. Rarely do I describe rooms or tiny details of things. I think the brain is wonderful at extrapolating those details without the aid of the author. So the mental image I talk about is more for the author’s sake than for the reader’s.

hustle_coverFunny story… after reading my book, The Art of the Hustle, someone made a comment stating, “Great story, and I love that the main character is black!” I’m like, “He is? Okay, sure.” So to this guy, his mind filled in the missing details with what was relevant to him and what he pictured in his mind, and I think that’s great.

Another trick some author’s do is put in a placeholder word that is easy to find using the search function and will not appear anywhere else in the text. So for example, use the letters TK any time you have to describe something and are getting bogged down. The idea is that you can go back to those spots and fill in the details later, and not fall into a trap and disrupt the flow of your writing. For instance, “Joe walked into the TK room and noticed a TK couch on his right…”

Turn weakness into strength

So my first suggestion would be to play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses. But if you don’t like that idea, the alternative (there may be more than one) would be to work on your weaknesses much like you would working out at the gym. Eventually, you will get stronger in this area. So for example, what you could do is start your day with a writing exercise to describe some object in your house – something that you know well. It doesn’t need to be in front of you, but have a clear picture of it in your mind. Describe the shape, texture, material, weight, shine… anything you think the reader would like to know about it.

five senses

Usually with good writing, you want to include the 5 common senses such as Sound, Smell, Sight, Touch, and Taste. If you keep those in mind when you describe a scene, you will get the reader more into the story. I’ve been using this approach a lot and I think it’s good. Of course, you don’t want to overdo it and describe the five senses every time your character interacts with something new, but let’s say your character walks into an old kitchen – it should smell a certain way right? And maybe the fridge has a low frequency hum, and maybe there’s s grease stain on the floor that’s sticky, and so on. So you can see how you start to build a mental picture.

I hope that helps.

Edward Mullen

Read Also:

OVERCOMING WRITING RESISTANCE

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL

HOW TO BUILD AN AUDIENCE AS A WRITER

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