As I’m editing my novel, the thing that keeps jumping out at me is the need for more and better description. Having just finished Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, which uses amazing imagery, this task seems incredibly daunting. If you’ve read Delirium, you’ll understand why I feel so intimidated. But seeing how Oliver achieved this, I feel like maybe there is hope for me yet.
Importance of Description in your Writing
Writing without description often leads to boring prose. It leaves your reader in the dark. Description doesn’t just help the reader see what you are seeing, it brings your writing alive. Think about listening to a t.v. show without watching it. Now think about the old-timey radio shows from the pre-television era. The difference is that the radio shows were full of description. They had to be to bring the story alive for the listener. Television shows do not need to use description – they are expecting you to be watching and listening. Now think about applying this to your writing. Without good description, you may as well be listening to a chase or fight scene on t.v. without actually watching it. No fun for you, and no fun for your readers if they are left in the dark.
How to write description
The other day over on Dark Angel’s Blog there was a post on description. In the post, Sherry talks about something she has dubbed “info-dumps.” This is where the writer literally dumps all of the description in one big lump. Check out her post for examples of good description vs. bad description.
The main take-away from Sherry’s post is to subtly weave description into the prose. As a writer, you may write a dump for yourself. I do this all the time. For example, in my notes I may write: Mistress Abbot is overweight and short, like a teapot. She wears little kitten heels and pastel sweaters that make her legs look like sausages and clash with her bright red hair, always coiled up on top of her head in a tight bun. She has a stern expression. However, in my prose I would be more likely to dab bits of the description in throughout the prose. Example: “The clicky-clack of Mistress Abbot’s heels reverberated down the hall and moments later I saw a flash of red hair as Mistress Abbot waddled in like an overstuffed turkey.” Turkey’s are large with thin legs – this calls to mind the tiny, disproportionate heels. The waddling also calls to mind someone who is overweight. You are left with a pretty good image of Mistress Abbot, but the reader still has enough room for their own additions to the image, which I think is important so that the reader can take things they are familiar with and attach them to your descriptions. If the reader can’t imagine it, they aren’t going to get it no matter how descriptive you get.
Do you have tricks for writing description? Do you find it difficult? Are you an info-dumper?