Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I've received the Super Sweet Blogging Award from both Victoria Lindstrom and Elizabeth Varaden! Thank you, ladies. Visit Victoria's blog HERE and Elizabeth's HERE.

As mentioned in another post for the award questions, I like chocolate chip cookies, banana bars with cream cheese frosting, chocolate mousse pie, and chocolate éclairs. You drooling yet?

When your story comes to a point where you need to describe something, do you have trouble? How do you describe that BFF or parent or haunted house? How do you evoke a clear image of a setting or place for your reader?

Tips for Writing Descriptions
1. Don't write stop-action information dumps where everyone freezes mid-sneeze while you wax poetic on what someone looks like the first time he/she is introduced. 
2. Similarly, don't put on the brakes while describing setting…don't ponder the intricate patterns of frost on the windowpane for six paragraphs. We get it. Really. These are the parts most readers SKIP or SKIM. Condense, slash, tighten.
3. Keep description to 3 sentences or less in one place is my own rule of thumb.
4. Spread out description if you need to add more besides that handful. Work them into the narrative or between lines of dialogue, as action beats.
5. Be original, and describe people in other ways than hair and eye color. Ideas: dreadlocks, acne, big ears, a hooked nose—or better yet, a shuffling gait, a frail or cowering stance, a comparison to concrete items such a German Shepherd or a plump red beet. These will stick in a reader's mind more than whether someone's hair is brown or black. Don't be clich√©. 
6. Describe personality of a character through the eyes of your main character; show how the person is affecting your MC. This is preferred over a stark (boring) grocery list of physical attributes.  
7. Don't TELL your readers what a character is like. Let them see the character's actions and words in order to come to their own conclusions. SHOW stinginess, kindness, etc.
8. Use a strong, intriguing voice if you must describe a character in length. Doing so can cover a multitude of sins, and help break the "rules" more palatably.  
9. Organize setting details to evoke a mood. Think about whether your scene is somber, lively, comical, frightening, or calm. Write accordingly. Choose words to reflect that mood, e.g., don't use comical words like snot and buffoon in a serious paragraph.
10. Be aware of the number of syllables as well as sentence length. Generally, numerous syllables or long sentences slow a passage, short syllables or sentences speed it up. 
11. Be aware of consonants. Use soft consonants like P and M and SH for a serene or flowing mood, harder consonants like G and K and D for more punch and kick. 
12. Study the writing of other writers. How do they describe people or things? Are you bored or fascinated? Why? At what point does your interest lag? Analyze, analyze. 
13. Try to avoid passive voice, and verbs like WAS, IS, and WERE (and those other "to be" verbs). Involve an action rather than passively having been acted upon: "the doilies stretched across the back of the couch" rather than "the doilies had been placed across the back of the couch."
14. Realize certain genres may require more description. Fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction (etc.) often need more details to ground readers and immerse them into a unique world. But don't use this as an excuse to description-dump. Show the character interacting WITH the world, using items and encountering people as part of the plot or action.

Yawner: He was muscular man who looked like he constantly worked out at the gym. 
Better: He was a hefty steak of a man, tight of muscle and minimal of fat.

Yawner: Her golden tresses cascaded down her back like a river, curly and luxurious.
Better: She reminded him of a golden, exquisite Rapunzel, and he imagined sinking into the luxurious depths of her tresses.

Yawner: The house stood old and decrepit, falling apart, with holes in the steps and roof. 
Better: I decided then and there that I'd better not sneeze, as the house possessed so many holes and leaning timbers that I might topple it in one inadvertent, mighty kerchoo!

Do you enjoy writing passages of description?
Which do you prefer or find easier—describing a person or a setting?
Do you have any other tips for describing people, places, or things in your writing? 


  1. Your description with the Rapunzel reference cracked me up, Carol. Your blog is great for writing tips...and you're sweet too! ^_^

  2. Pretty award!
    Great tips Carol. I try to keep #6 in mind a lot while drafting...

  3. Love your examples Carol. The super sweet award is perfect for you :)


  4. Just wonderful. I love the writing descriptions.

    And, congratulations on receiving the award.

  5. I love getting your posts via email every week, Carol, and this one was so good that I had to drop by and tell you how much I enjoyed it. All your tips resonated with me and you said it much better than I ever could! Thanks for being awesome. :D

  6. Great tips as usual! I like writing description, and I prefer describing settings to people. Hope you're having a good long weekend!

  7. Awesome! The only time I pause to describe is when we hit a new setting, and then I think the three sentences is a great guideline. I'm a firm believer most description should be given through the five senses and in the MC's response to their environment, rather than straight exposition.

  8. I do enjoy writing setting, but I rarely write much of it in my first draft. I have go back and put it in. (I used to enjoy writing it tooo much, lol and had to cut it way way back).

  9. I write spare and put in details later, so I like your part about setting. A few choice words/sentences will do.
    Congrats on your award!

  10. The better examples are wonderful. Great tips.

  11. Those were all great suggestions. I tend to skimp on description in my firsts drafts, too.

  12. Congratulations on the award! Thanks for the great tips! :)

  13. Excellent tips! (And yes I'm drooling - those deserts sound yummy!)

  14. Congratulations on the award, Carol. and thanks for the great tips! I seem to do No. 12 automatically these days and No. 7 is an excellent reminder.


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