Some primary thoughts on description…
-Images can convey emotional change more powerfully than plain statement (hence, “Show, Don’t Tell.”)
-Great description is never static.
-Arrangement and sequencing of detail are crucial for structuring a reader’s access to a vividly rendered world.
-Description can serve to further psychological development.
-Description can function as a hinge, swinging a character between places and especially times, and giving us access in our narratives to a non-linear movement that can be powerfully counterpointed against plot.
An image is any information we can process with our senses:
-Proprioception (one’s sense of their body as they move through space)
And of course, sensorium, which is the sensory apparatus or faculties considered as a whole.
As writers, we need to learn to take note of the myriad of details, both big and small, and in turn, transfer them onto the page. They surround us in every day life.
Our experience is unbelievably rich and bursting with information, all the time; the question remains: how do we access it?
“Calm yourself down, sit, and be quiet. Don’t push, don’t try to think about what you should be seeing.”
-Paul Harding, author of Tinkers
Q: How much description is too much?
A: This may not be the best question. It is more about quality over quantity. Description need be precise, they need to be revelatory of character, they need to imbue the work with the impression of our intelligence.
-Description leads to building a world. Don’t simply create a backdrop of a story, build something with power and grace; with depth, feeling and hope; destruction and despair, if your mind drifts that way. In so doing, try to think about the relationship between the two worlds that are perpetually taking place on the page simultaneously: the physical and the emotional world. For example, how do they intersect?
-Show the reader a world we’ve never seen before and one we’ll likely never see again. The writer needn’t create that world, or singularity, by constructing an outlandish world (though there’s nothing wrong with that!) Rather, create that singularity by overlaying an emotional reality over the physical (don’t write superficially,) and do it in ways that have never been done before or ways you’ve never seen before.
-Figure out how the two worlds co-exist and use them to develop your world. Approach the physical through the lens of the character(s.) How do they perceive it? This is imperative because every character is going to see their surroundings differently.
This, to me, seems very difficult to pull off, but it also sounds exciting, intimidating and quite humbling.
-What is it about certain scenes, moments, etc…, that resonate with you? What makes them tick? What is the writer doing on the page that’s so revered and memorable and unique, and often awe-inspiring? Think about some of your most beloved scenes or characters from your favorite books, and try to analyze their uniqueness.
-Always trust the subject, the writing, yourself and the reader. Write with precision, clarity and honesty. Distance yourself and your preconceptions of how you think things are going to be, and describe what you see in your mind to the best of your ability.
-Remember the importance of objects that inhabit your world. They’re best rendered seamlessly. And every little thing must serve a purpose. Sometimes multiple purposes. (If anything does not move the plot forward and/or develop the character, it should be omitted.) Don’t just write in things because you think they’re cool, appealing or because you think it’s expected of you.