• It helps if you can form a mental picture first, putting yourself in the scene, and then describing what you
    see, hear, smell, taste or feel.

  • Be selective.  Too many details can bog down the sentence or the action.  If the words don’t add to the
    storyline by moving it forward, don’t use them.

  • Avoid clichés unless it’s one of the character’s personality traits to use them.  Examples:  As good as
    gold.  Work like a dog.  Greener pastures.  Pass the buck.

  • As part of your editing process, review each sentence to decide if you have included enough
    description.  For example, it may add to the story if the character grew up in a twenty-room mansion in
    Beverly Hills rather than a house in southern California, or drank a tankard of Dortmunder rather than a
    can of beer, or drove a 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster convertible, dark blue with a tan interior rather
    than an old car.

  • Adding the right amount of description is a balancing act, and everyone has a different opinion of what
    is the right balance.  Just be aware that too much will bore the reader and not enough will leave him
    confused.
Writing Tips & Advice
Descriptive Writing
Descriptive writing can be as simple as the use of one word or as complex as a long detailed paragraph.  Either
way, the goal is to add life into the sentences and put the reader closer into the scene.  The right descriptive
words can bring a flat uninteresting sentence to life and frequently answers the who, what, where, when, why
and how questions.  Descriptive words that enhance the image, emotion or experience will provide a more
memorable experience for the reader.

I’ve read many articles and even books on descriptive writing, but the best advice I found was to appeal to the
five senses. My favorite example is from an old
I Love Lucy episode when Lucy tries to describe to Ethel what
Charles Boyer looks like.  

    “It’s like he just walked into a room where a big pot of cauliflower is cooking,” she said.

Say no more.

Descriptive writing doesn't just tell readers something, it shows it to them. For example, you could easily tell the
reader, “A good time was had by all,” but when you describe it in a way that paints a picture for the reader to
interpret for himself, it will engage them and make them want to know what happens next.

But writing descriptively has to be a balance between showing and telling. Too much will cause readers to skip
over parts, and too little may cause them to lose interest altogether.

To keep their interest, try painting a picture of situations and emotions to which readers can relate. Involve the
five senses. Make them wish they were there.

Consider this excerpt from a
Houston Chronicle article by Jessica Danes about tea.

    "It tastes like the earth. Pungent and loamy and more real than anything you’ve ever tasted in awhile. A
    sip and the daydreaming starts—of high-peaked mountains and the tender plants that prized leaves
    were plucked from. Tea can do that to you."

I would say that description is far more interesting and engaging than, "A wide assortment of tea is available to
suit everyone's taste."

Here are some examples of descriptive phrases that have the potential to pull the reader into the story.
Sight

Tight red dress, beer belly, brandy brown eyes, red-orange evening sky, chewed fingernails, dense foliage, two-foot whitecaps.

Smell

New car smell, too much cologne, apple pie, hot tar, stale cigarettes and beer, newly mowed grass, the coppery smell of blood.

Taste

Vinegar, sweet dark chocolate, rock salt, sour milk, ripe vine-picked strawberry, chili pepper, garlic.

Sound

Hammers banging, screeching seagulls, a baby crying, crunch of an apple, distant owl, native drums, determined steps, Thwap!

Touch

Limp handshake, smooth skin, wiry hair, rabbit’s fur, cactus plant, slippery rocks, corduroy, adhesive tape, sandpaper, Vaseline.

Here is an example of a simple flat sentence growing into a descriptive one.

    He sat at the desk.
    The thin, balding man slouched in the chair behind the desk.
    The thin, balding man, who was slouched in the chair behind the desk, ignored the brawl going on behind him.
    The thin, balding man, who was slouched in the chair behind the desk, stroked his wiry beard and ignored the brawl going on
    behind him.
    The thin, balding man, who was slouched in the chair behind the desk, stroked his wiry beard and ignored the brawl going on
    behind him, the cigarette dangling from his mouth defying gravity.

  • It helps if you can form a mental picture first, putting yourself in the scene, and then describing what you
    see, hear, smell, taste or feel.

  • Be selective.  Too many details can bog down the sentence or the action.  If the words don’t add to the
    storyline by moving it forward, don’t use them.

  • Avoid clichés unless it’s one of the character’s personality traits to use them.  Examples:  As good as gold.  
    Work like a dog.  Greener pastures.  Pass the buck.

  • As part of your editing process, review each sentence to decide if you have included enough description.  
    For example, it may add to the story if the character grew up in a twenty-room mansion in Beverly Hills
    rather than a house in southern California, or drank a tankard of Dortmunder rather than a can of beer, or
    drove a 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster convertible, dark blue with a tan interior rather than an old car.

  • Adding the right amount of description is a balancing act, and everyone has a different opinion of what is
    the right balance.  Just be aware that too much will bore the reader and not enough will leave him confused.


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