Painting Pictures With Words

by Alice Beesley

Description is one of my favorite things to write. In fact, I like it so much I sometimes go overboard with it. I often imagine a scene in my head like a movie as I write it or draw from my own life and memories. I also collect pictures of people and places to help me envision a character or scene.

Here are some ideas for writing description:

• Keep a notebook to record descriptions: Describe places and emotions as you experience them.
• Use sensory details: Touch (including texture and temperature and the whole body, not just the hands), smell, sight, sound . . . also remember to include your character’s thoughts and reactions to what they see, feel, hear, and smell. The more important the scene, the more detailed it should be.
• Use descriptive language: Imagery and concrete details are great ways to make description vivid, but be careful to make comparisons accurate and not to overdo. Different ways to this:
o Synonyms (emphasize)
o Antonyms (contrast)
o Simile (using like or as for description or comparison)
o Metaphor (symbolism, using one thing or action to mean another) Avoid the abstract.
o Figurative language (words and phrases that go beyond their literal meaning)
o Personification (using any noun as if it were a person)
o Hyperbole (exaggeration for emphasis) Eg: Her skin was so fair she didn’t dare go out in the sun unless she wore 500 strength sunscreen.
o Irony (using words in a manner opposite to standard usage. Sarcasm. Twist of fate)
o Metonymy (slang, using one word to represent a group: redcoats, Yankee. Gringo)
• Avoid clichés: Common phrases: heart skipped a beat. Be creative. Add a new twist to an old cliché.
• Include only important details: to set the scene and that add to the scene, create a mood, or develop character. If you mention the gun on the mantel, make sure the gun is used later on in the story. Rainy weather can create a feeling of sadness or loneliness. A thunder or windstorm can show anger or a fight scene.
• Use specific details: Avoid generalizations and vagueness.
o Vague: candlelight sparkled on crystal and china.
o Specific: Candlelight sparkled on the crystal goblets, casting a golden glow over the bone china with raised vine motifs carved around the edges.
• When describing a scene, have the character acting in that scene: Instead of saying the sofa was black leather, say she sat on the black leather sofa that stuck to her bare legs.
• Don’t use too many adjectives and adverbs: Use Nouns and verbs, people in motion should drive your writing (Adam Sexton,
• Avoid too many archetypes and stereotypes: an ideal image of a person or thing. One-dimensional characters.
• If it pulls you from the story, take it out or change it.
• Use description to create pacing: description can help draw out the suspense. Use less description during an action scene so as not to slow down the action.

Description isn’t padding. It’s the heart and soul of writing. Robert J. Sawyer

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

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