Choosing Descriptors in Novel Writing

Yesterday we focused on how to describe characters and their actions without boring the reader. Description is vital to fiction (it’s a made-up world after all) yet it must maintain a delicate balance.  Although one could argue that more description is more “real,” too much and it creates sensory overload.
Writing Tip for Today: More pointers on making description work for your novel:

  • Employ Setting. When describing a scene, don’t forget the setting. If the sense of place becomes a mirror for the character’s emotions (like a character itself), all the better. If your main character meets an especially steep obstacle, the whirling storm around her mirrors her emotion. But beware: writing a big chunk of description only stalls the action. Much better to weave the description into emotion, action and dialogue.
  • Create a Mood. Description can fuel the reader’s perception of the character’s mood or the overall tone of the novel. Resist the urge to lapse into an omniscient-sounding treatise unless you are James Michener or very skilled. Usually, it’s best to keep descriptions in someone’s Point of View.
  • Convey Expressions Carefully. We’re told to show emotions and reactions, not to tell using words that sum up those feelings. So instead of saying he was ashamed, we write, “He couldn’t look at her.” But again, beware: roving body parts are part of the baggage that comes with showing emotions. These can conjure some weird images: she dropped her eyes, he took her arm up the stairs, he threw up his hands. I usually replace “eyes” with “gaze” but I’ve never found a good substitute for throwing up hands. Anybody got an idea?

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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