The Art Of Description In Fiction Writing

In fiction writing, description isn’t just about telling the reader something.  Listing the distinguishing qualities of a house, for instance, is a valid description, but it isn’t quite the kind of thing that will encourage you to finish a chapter, much less an entire novel.

Descriptive passages should do more than give the reader a better understanding of the characters and the world they’re living in, it also has to drive the narrative forward.  Don’t settle for listing details as that will make for dull prose.  Instead, enter the world of whatever you’re describing, letting your imagination run loose.

Three elements are omnipresent in well-made descriptive passages in stories:

  1. Specific observable details.  What the character (or narrator) sees, hears, smells, feels and tastes.  Many novice writers end the buck here when they shouldn’t.
  2. Inner life.  This gives a peek into the inner life of the character (or narrator) who’s part of the passage.  A single revelation into the character’s thoughts or emotional patterns can be enough to provide the necessary spice to the passage.
  3. Motivation.  What drives your character?  Throwing this bit in allows you to turn a simple description into a real narrative with its own sub-story.