Creating good description in fiction.

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Are you trying to immerse your reader in a scene that currently just seems so bland? Here’s a few tips on using description.

Matthew killed Michael.

That’s the basic scene you’re trying to describe. Let me first begin by saying that simple is often best. Having said that, if your novel is filled with three word sentences like this, you don’t have a story, you have a list of facts.  So how do we improve it? We add description but keep it simple and relevant.

The sense of sight.

Most people understand that you need to describe the physical setting. So let’s make some changes to the above sentence.

As the sun set on the horizon, behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew killed Michael. 

This is better, but is it relevant? It certainly evokes a sense of solitude, but you don’t need the word horizon, the sun always set’s on the horizon, so give your readers a little credit.

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew killed Michael.

This is much better. It evokes a sense of solitude without using needless words. The sentence is less clunky, more simple and more fluid by this simple change. A good many writers finish there. There are, however, 5 senses. Sight is just one of them.

The sense of sound.

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew heard the keen cry of Michael’s dying breath. He had killed him. 

Better. Yes? Now you wonder, what did that cry do to Matthew? Well, that’s not relevant for now, but later in the book you can reference this as a turning point for the character with some simple tricks.

Matthew awoke with the cry of Michael still ringing in his ears.

The action had an unintended effect on the character.

Back to description!

The sense of touch.

Touch is a very evocative sense. Think about an artist painting, or sex. What about typing or the little acts we take for granted such as buttoning up a shirt. All rely on touch. Touch will make a very satisfying addition to this quickly evolving scene.

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew heard the keen cry of Michael’s dying breath. He felt the man’s body shudder as he pulled the knife roughly back out of him.  He was dead.

The sense of smell.

Smell is under rated. Think about the effect of perfume, or that scent that appears after the first rain fall of the summer. What about those times you walk in the house, and someones cooking? Are there pleasant memories summoned to your mind because of it? So let’s add some smell to this scene.

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew heard the keen cry of Michael’s dying breath. He felt the man’s body shudder as he pulled the knife roughly back out of him. He smelled the scent of blood. He had killed him. 

The sense of taste.

I think most people instinctively understand the power of taste. We all have a favourite food or drink. Still, I’m surprised by how many struggle to put it into their writing. What can taste add to this scene?

As the sun set behind the lonely mountain range, Matthew heard the keen cry of Michael’s dying breath. He felt the man’s body shudder as he pulled the knife roughly back out of him. He smelled the scent of blood. He tasted the pungent metallic aroma of death. What had he done? 

I even added a twist at the end.

In Summary.

Not everything you write needs a four line descriptive piece. Just remember, you are telling a story. You do need to involve the reader in the emotions and decision making of that scene and the characters. Description needs to be balanced against the pace of the novel. You will notice, that the sentences became shorter the longer that description went on. This adds to pacing. We’ll talk more about pacing in another blog.

What was my hope in the other paragraph? It was to help you identify with Matthew’s loneliness, the horror of his act, and the instant regret of his conscience. Did I succeed? You decide.

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