Description and other monsters
In this latest guest post, Aiden Meyer discusses how to write descriptions and the importance it has on a story.
Oddly enough, description does a lot more than just describe things. Think about this: “The sky was gray.” It’s the simplest, blandest description you can come up with, and yet it does more than just say that the sky was gray. If the sky is gray, the sun isn’t shining, there might be a chance of rain or snow, the atmosphere might be heavier, the world might be bleaker. What I’m getting at is that description doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Let’s see how it impacts everything else and how to make it come alive in the reader’s head.
Senses: This is probably the first lesson in description, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Since the world is being witnessed by someone, keeping only to sight limits how much you can immerse the reader into your world. Having wonderful visual descriptions is great, but it’s in the smell, in the hearing, in taste and in touch that your reader will feel your world. It doesn’t mean you need to have your characters licking lampposts all the time, but trying to incorporate all senses can really pay off.
Motion: This is how you bring the setting to life. Having dynamic elements in your description will make the world feel alive. The flickering of a light, servants rushing around, tending to their duties, a flock of birds heading south, grasshoppers jumping out of the characters’ way. It gives the impression that there’s more happening in the world than just your plot. When everyone and everything move independently, the world feels real, not a static playground for your characters.
Interaction: Having characters interact with the environment, especially during dialogue, can be a great way to use description. Not only does it break up dialogue and lessen that talking head feel, but it also helps your descriptions feel less like a list of traits. For example, you can make a character stir the fireplace and throw a log into the glowing embers while he speaks. When the characters interact with their environment, both become better for it.
Cause and effect: Things in the setting need to have an effect on the POV character. If there’s a horrible smell in the air, the character needs to have a reaction. What that reaction is depends on the type of character, but they need to react somehow. The heat should make them sweat, fan themselves. A cold breeze should yield a shudder and so on. Make sure your environment affects your characters, and their actions change the environment.
Entire books can be written on the topic and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should have you on your way. Experiment, practice, and keep working on it!
Find out more about Aidan at – https://www.aidanmeyer.net/
Check out his novel here- https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZZ82L75