Did you ever pick up a book, begin reading, and soon find the words on the page disappear because you are “seeing” the story unfold in your mind’s eye? Description helps the reader to create a mind movie from the words you write.
Description should ADD to a story. Yes, the pace is slower than an action segment, but description shouldn’t stop the reader.
Pick what you describe and when you use description. (And how much!) Instead of telling what a person is wearing, try to describe the way the clothes fit the person and says something about the character. For example: the tennis shoes were double tied, the jeans dragged the gravel in the driveway, the t-shirt rose up, exposing a pierced bellybutton.
I’m going to cover some of the ways you can improve your use of description. For Part 1, I’m going to talk about the use of adjectives and adverbs.
Adverbs are words which modify or describe verbs.
She plays hard. (NOTE: The word “hard” is also an adjective.)
He runs quickly
She shopped yesterday.
He is always (frequently) busy.
She is very busy.
She went shopping, then she saw a movie.
Adjectives are words which gives more information about a noun.
She drove a fast car.
His bike is blue.
Her parents attended the school conference.
The exhausted child twisted her ankle.
Football is an exciting sport.
The trick is to use as few adverbs and adjectives as possible in your writing. Why? The simple answer is: If you have to use another word to strengthen the original word, you are probably not using the strongest word that you can.
He runs quickly. (The word “quickly” is added to aid the verb “runs.” Remove the word “quickly.” Look at the verb choice. Is it strong enough? If not, find a stronger verb. For example you might replace runs with: races, scampers, rushes, sprints, etc.
She drove a fast car. (The word “fast” is added to aid the noun “car.” Remove the word “fast.” Look at the noun choice. What specific make/model of car comes to mind to make the reader THINK “fast?” Maybe: Shelby Mustang, Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc. (You can also add a specific model for the make of car, such as Porsche 911.)
Saying “She drove a fast car” TELLS the reader information. What we need to do is have the reader experience the story. This can be done by allowing the reader to FEEL an experience. Many think of sports cars as being FAST, so if the writer uses “Ferrari” instead of “fast car” he or she allows the reader the impression of speed, rather than telling them.
When the reader experiences the story along with the characters, he or she becomes a more active participant in the process of storytelling.
Use specific nouns and powerful verbs!
Question for today: Look at some of your recent writing. What might you do to make better use of description? When you read a book or story, do you find that you skip over passages of description? Why? Or why not?