Literature, Uncategorized, Writing tips

The basics of descriptions

How should you describe a person? How much detail should you include? What details should you include?

When describing a person, ask yourself, “What is the first thing you notice when this character walks into a room?” Is it that they have very large glasses? Then desribe those. Is it their bad skin? Then describe that. Is it their nervous demeanor? Then describe that. Two – three of those details are often enough to give an impression of the character.

When you see a person, you’re not immediately aware of the physical details. What you get from them, is an impression or feeling. It’s that feeling we wish to convey.

 For example, this is how I’d describe actor Jack Nicholson:
He was an old man, but he still had his devilish charms. When he smiled and his eyes glinted, he reminded you of a wolf.

Notice how this description doesn’t contain any objective physical details. We have no idea what his hair colour is, what the shape of his eyes is, and so on. And yet, we have an impression of him.

The same principle applies to places and objects. If you want to describe the swamp your character is walking through, think about the impressions you get as you’re walking through it. Perhaps it’s the smell of rotting plant matter. Perhaps it’s how annoying it is when the water seeps into your shoes. Perhaps it’s the fear of losing your foothold and being sucked into the dark waters. Then select the most important impressions, the ones you feel capture the feeling of the place.

With this method, you describe things as someone in the story would experience them, and it helps making the story more immersive.

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