Wednesday, March 27

How To Write Description

How To Write Description
Have you ever read a wonderfully descriptive passage and wondered, "How'd the writer do that?"

Today, Kim Aippersbach, in per post How to write description, tells us how. First, though, here's the description Kim uses:
And then they were crossing out of the tube into another foyer, and escorted by Christos through a pair of sleek doors clad in fine wood marquetry to a hushed hallway graced with mirrors and fresh flowers. And then into a broad living room backed by wide glass walls taking in a sweeping panorama of the capital, with the sun going down and the dusk rising to turn the city lights to jewels on velvet for as far as the eye could see, under a cloud-banded sky. (Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold)

1. Be active

The first thing I noticed: there isn't a single instance of the verb "to be."For a passage of description, there is a remarkable amount of action here. The characters are moving through the setting: "crossing into" and "escorted through" "and then into," so the reader is carried with them. But even the inanimate objects don't just sit there. They are "clad," "graced," "backed." The sun goes down, the dusk rises and turns, the eye sees.

2. Focus on important, key, details.

When describing something less is more.
The next thing I noticed is how much Bujold doesn't tell us. Do we know whether the room is carpeted? Do we know what color the furniture is? Is there a couch in the living room? Does it matter? She gives us only the most telling details, enough to convey luxury, taste, beauty. The rest we can fill in for ourselves.

3. Filter the description through your point-of-view character.

Kim writes:
Description reveals character, can even reveal emotion, by showing what the character sees. 
Here's how Kim sums it up:

Three Rules for Writing Description

1. Use strong verbs that contribute to the atmosphere you want to create.
2. Only describe the telling details.
3. Be aware of who is narrating the scene, and describe it through their eyes.
My article has just been a quick summary and doesn't do justice to Kim's analysis. She provides a detailed discussion. It is a wonderful, and wonderfully informative, article!

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- Mark Coker, Founder Of Smashwords: Six Ways To Increase Book Sales
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean

Photo credit: "FOREST KING" by balt-arts under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Description is so important and one of my weaknesses. I worry that my writing will sound like something the school teacher wants rather than part of the real world. I see my created world in my head and sometimes forget that my readers haven't been there yet. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Description isn't my strength either! Kim writes amazing descriptions, I think it's one of her (many) strengths. I think that's why her article was so good! :)


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