Description is a tricky thing. We all know a good one when we see it, but it’s not always easy to come up with one yourself. And of course, your voice and genre will determine the kind of description you use.
If Charles Dickens is your style, you might like this detailed description from Bleak House:
Sir Leicester is twenty years, full measure, older than my Lady. He will never see sixty-five again, nor perhaps sixty-six, nor yet sixty-seven. He has a twist of the gout now and then and walks a little stiffly. He is of a worthy presence, with his light-grey hair and whiskers, his fine shirt-frill, his pure-white waistcoat, and his blue coat with bright buttons always buttoned.
If you’re into poetry, maybe you’d prefer Langston Hughes’ spare images, like this excerpt from “Mother to Son”:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
While there are many styles of description, there are a few things successful ones have in common. They all use specific, sensory details. They all stop before they get too long or tedious. They all fit the writing form and style of that particular piece of writing.
As a high school English teacher, I spent many years listening to teenagers complain, “There’s too much description. They should get to the action!” So when I started writing fiction, I made everything short, and had to learn how to draw out the details to show the reader more. Even now, I tend to write the bare bones in the first draft and fill in the descriptions later. Sometimes I start with too much, and prune later. We all find our own style as we go along.
We’ll be playing with description in my workshop on Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Anchorage. Everyone is welcome to sign up. Here’s the blurb:
Good writers use description to set scenes, reveal character, produce images, and establish voice. We’ve all read great lines or sentences that describe perfectly, or winced when a writer does too much or not enough. How do we utilize the power of description most effectively? Together, we’ll explore the art of description through reading and discussion of examples, in-class writing exercises, and consideration of specific audiences, genres, and styles. This no-homework, one-time class will equip and inspire you to enliven your own writing with crisp, impactful descriptions.
You can register for this and other 49 Writers classes at http://49writers.web907.com/class-
Lynn Lovegreen grew up and remains in Alaska. She taught for twenty years before retiring to make more time for writing. She enjoys her friends and family, reading, and volunteering at her local library. Her young adult/new adult historical romances are set in the Alaska Gold Rush, a great time for drama, romance, and independent characters.