There is nothing more irritating then opening a new book to find that the first chapter is full of descriptions. I’m talking full on descriptions. she was blond, wearing a little pink dress, blue eyes and pale skin. For every. Single. Person. You. Meet.
Then they start describing the area. Every. Detail.
A full chapter in and you still don’t know what the story is about because the writer is setting the scene with descriptions.
This is how school teaches us to write, in England at least, and it is wrong.
This post aims to cover a list of tips that will help you to find the correct balance between descriptions and story telling.
Setting The Scene
The first few sentences of the book are important, you do not want to drown your reader with details.
Look at it this way. If you are a gamer with a favourite game, introducing your bestie to this amazing game, would you teach them every detail from the get go? (character creation, character development, how to upgrade things, how to mod things, how to use your companions most effectively.) If you did, you would probably scare them away from the game, it would seem too complex.
It is the same when writing a book. They are not going to remember every detail that you throw at them in the first few pages of reading. Giving them too much information will overwhelm them and discourage them. Drip feed.
What Do We Mean By Drip Feed?
Give them a bit at a time. Start with a few relevant details then expand on it in pieces as the chapter expands. It will look something like this:
Opening line. Start a description of the area. Have a small Action. More light description. Conversation that includes more description.
Of course there are many variations of this. This kind of drip feed will keep your reader interested. It is much better then a long paragraph talking about ones surroundings, these paragraphs are often skipped by readers.
So how would this look in an actual book. Here’s an example of it in action written on the fly:
In a world that had been painted green, it was bad to stand out as pink. Not literally painted green, no. Everything looked normal, well normal for an outpost in a bubble on the bottom of the ocean floor anyways. Green was there way of saying they weren’t polluting anything. My job was pink. Pink meant pollutants. Pink was hated and yet necassary.
Kicking the metallic frame that held our bubble together I glared at a passing school of fish. “Sometimes I want to poke a little hole in this here forcefield, sit back, and watch the stuck up researchers panic.”
Get the idea? You have seen many things about this world I just created in a few lines, but in a way that has been intriguing, filled with little events and histories and prejudices. Every sentence said more than one thing about the story. This is how you drip-feed.
As I said above, there are many variations of drip feeding details while keeping one engaged in the story. Here is a paragraph that leaves a lot to the imagination but in a way where it paints a clear picture of what is going on. It is engaging, interesting and descriptive.
He gritted his teeth and waited for the pain to pass as he watched from the shadows. Watching as his prey steadily approached. He hoped that after a century of looking this was finally the one. The icy wind blew through the park, gently shifting the branches of the trees, the sound of rustling leaves carrying through the night. The girl walked quickly through the park, her breath visible as small clouds of fog with every exhale.
The above is from REAPER Angel of Death by G.P Burdon. While it doesn’t have the conversation it is engaging, it is showing little actions through description. Each sentence is doing a few different things, for example the icy wind gently shifting branches, we know it is cold, we know it is outside we know the wind is not a gale as it is shifting the branches gently. It has also got us very interested in what he, whoever he is, is up to.
Describing The Players
Seen as a nightmare by some authors, the job of describing the characters in the story. Let me tell you of a few good ways to do this.
- Give a crazy interesting description. You want to know how best to do this? I advise you read some of Douglas Adams work. Any of his works.
2. Use the mirror technique. This is seen as a bit cliché but it does work if done correctly. You do not want to be standing in the mirror describing every detail of your character, you want it to feel as natural as possible. When describing her main guy Max, Setsuka Rain had him look in a mirror and complain about his blondish stubble. We instantly knew he was blonde and that he likes to be clean shaven, an interesting fact given he lived in a world full of dinosaurs.
3. Describe in part and leave the rest to the imagination. This is considered lazy by the uneducated. The imagination is a wonderful thing and as writers we should give it more credit. Brian Jacques explained his main character in part but it always sat well with me Ben clearly. (Extract below)
4. Start the book with a character page. This is where you have pictures and descriptions of all the major players in the novel right at the front of the book. Not often seen but fun when you do see it.
Towns, Homes, Buildings
There may be a time, as you write, when you have a need to really describe a place or an area. This could be because murder mystery and clues, it could be an important area where most of the book takes place, it could be the main player has OCD and a little thing being out of place is important, it could be that the surroundings is essential to the tale in one way or another. Either way, you may feel that it is unavoidable to have a lengthy description.
Read the Lord of the Rings. Why?
Long descriptions are bad in todays world because people are brought up differently. They do not have the time or the patience to read it all as they have been brought up with instant satisfaction. Despite that, people still read The Lord of the Rings. The book is eloquent in all its descriptions, it is written in a way that you cannot help yourself but get immersed. We have a lot to learn from J.R.R.Tolkien. Study how he writes his descriptions, study what makes it readable to you, emulate that in your own work.
Take, for instance, the following extract. A description of Lothlorien through the eyes of Frodo. Read it aloud and feel how it rolls of the tongue.
Talk baout how great it is and how we should not underestimate it.
Kelly is an author and blogger who completed her first novel while still in high school.
She is currently a full time writer. Her works include the outlaws series (4 books), The Lady in the Loft collection (Anthologies), Gaming blogs and guides (hired work), travel writing and more.
While Kelly has been writing stories for many years she got her start at online blogging through a free online course. This is what led to her being a full time work from home writer. To this day she states “It’s the best move I ever made.”
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