Monday, October 17, 2011

Dazzling Description!!

In the era of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, readers enjoyed long sections of description. In fact, they felt cheated if there wasn’t full paragraphs describing how a character went to the store to buy a toothbrush! Well, maybe not that descriptive, but you get the idea. In today’s fast paced world, we are on the other side of the spectrum. Readers today don’t have time for long descriptive paragraphs. Yet, sensory description should still be a part of our writing, especially if you, like me, write historical novels. So how much is enough, and how do we write poignant description, using only a few paragraphs? Here’s some tips:

1) Use the five senses. Taste, smell, see, and touch can be very effective to get the point across quickly. The senses are powerful memory evokers. Using just one or two of them can be more effective than a whole paragraph! Figurative language can also be employed using the five senses. A great example of this is from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby, when Gatsby describes Daisy’s voice as being “full of money.” This does more for the reader than a long paragraph describing her voice, doesn’t it?

2) Don’t write description for description’s sake.  Meaningless description bores readers! This goes back to the “toothbrush description”. Don’t write description just to impress the reader with your flowery language or knowledge of adjectives. Write quick, fast paced description that keeps the reader reading, rather than boring them. I’ve been guilty of writing boring description, and it’s not very interesting to read, and doesn’t add to the depth of your story.

3) Think about how your POV character would perceive things. For example, a socialite would perceive a dining room far differently than the servant who cleans it. The socialite would probably notice the crystal, chandeliers, and elaborate centerpiece. The servant might notice those things also, but with an entirely different mindset. They would probably be thinking, “After dinner I’ve got to clean all this!” or “If only I were the lady of this grand house.” This is why getting into your character’s head is so important. When we write, we become that character and must reflect their thoughts and feelings. These in turn are conveyed to the reader, hopefully with an intensity that transports the reader into that characters inner being.

4) Go beyond cliché. Don’t describe your heroine as having hair “black as midnight” instead think of something creative such as “her hair was the color of the coal her father mined - rich, dark, and luminous.” This isn’t always possible in the first draft, when we are just writing. But in the editing stages look for ways to describe something in a fresh non-clichéd way. Remember today’s readers have heard most everything. They are looking for fresh material. Material that will keep them hooked from the first page to the last.

Description is like icing on a cake. You put on too much and it ruins the cake. You put on too little, and the cake is dry. Putting just enough on, makes for a satisfying delicious experience!

Tune in next Monday, October 24th for a special interview with Love Inspired author Ruth Logan Herne!

I met Ruth at the ACFW conference in Missouri and found out what a neat lady she is! Ruth is one of the original seekers from Seekerville and will be telling us all about that and other cool things about her writing adventure. She is a super sweet lady and great writer!! We will also be giving away ALL SIX of Ruth’s books for you to enjoy. So tune in then…..

Now I’m off to describe my next scene……….

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