“We think in generalities, but we live in detail” – Alfred North Whitehead
I suppose you could write a novel without description but I’m not sure how many readers would continue to read it to the end. You might have the most intriguing plot and characters that seem lifelike but without description, it would feel like reading a grocery list, vital information but not very interesting.
Good description uses the senses, all of them. It helps ground the reader in the setting and done well, it can make them feel for the characters. Be specific and it will pull the reader into the story and don’t settle for a word because it is the first one that came to you. If a sentence feels off, look at those descriptive words and see if you might find something that is more specific that can create an emotional connection. We may not have all been to Laguna Beach but we have probably been to a beach or we’ve seen one on television or in movies. How did the sand feel under your feet, the sun beating down on your skin, the cold water lapping on the shore over your ankles? Can you smell the fishy smell off the ocean? Lick your lips, do you taste the salt? Use the descriptive words that are universal to the majority of readers. Being universal will hit the chord that makes the connection and will pull your reader into the story through to the end.
Description is like using salt and pepper, too much and it will ruin the story, just enough and it will enhance the flavor.
Keep your writing notebook handy. It’s not just for story ideas. Next time you’re out and about with a little time to spare, jot down a description of where you are. Describe the people and the setting. Pick out someone who might be an interesting character and describe them in detail. Next time you need a character, dig through your notebook. You may have already found the main character for your next book, or maybe a secondary character you never thought of. Describe the sound of tires squealing, bickering adults, whiney children, the taste of the frozen yogurt at the mall, the smell of the wild flowers while on your morning walk. Get out and live life and mine it for your descriptions. “Connections”, the short story I had published came to me after I saw a homeless woman downtown. She intrigued me and I started asking myself questions about how she came to be in that situation. The thing that stuck was the way she was dressed, in layers with her shopping bags at her feet. It was her feet that really bothered me, she wore sandals with white crew socks and her feet were green from the grass. I don’t know why but that really bothered me. It bothered me enough to write about her.
With this long Memorial Day weekend, I hope you all are finding a little time to write and of course read.
Until next week,