A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Adjectives And Description

One of the most important aspects of storytelling is being able to drop our reader directly into world we're creating. The story is important no doubt, but if our reader can't visualize where they are, what's the point? Brian over at The New Author got me to thinking about adjectives, description, and visuals, so let's talk about how we might improve our writing in this area.

The use of adjectives does not necessarily mean we pull out the thesaurus and find an alternate way to describe trees other than "green". We've all had those moments where we stumble on the words, knowing in our mind the picture we are trying to paint but are unable to accurately create it on paper. A proper description should include as many of the senses as possible. Take the following sentence:

As Kyle walked through the green meadow, he couldn't help but notice the red and yellow flowers all around.

The sentence has action (somewhat), and we get a very basic sense of the environment around the MC. There is nothing descriptive here however, other than sight. How do we dress up this scene to make it more appealing? The following might be one way to describe things a bit better:

Kyle waded through the waves of verdant grassland, the tawny and scarlet blooms floating like algae on a quiet emerald sea.

In the second sentence, a few things have been done. Height has been added to the grass via the word waded. More descriptive and lyrical words like verdant, tawny, scarlet, and interwoven provide some flow. There is now a theme, comparing the meadow to a sea. There is even a hint of sound from the word waves, implying motion and breeze around the MC, as well as the quiet emerald sea. The second example has more impact than the first, and yet we did not add more sentences, nor is the word count significantly higher. The reader will be able to envision the scene in much greater detail.

If we can then take this example and expand on it throughout our writing, the reader will find themselves catapulted directly into our world. They will be able to see, hear, and feel the scene around them. More importantly, they can pay attention to the story unfolding before them and believe they are sitting right in the middle of it all.

The sentence improvements shown are only one way to handle this. How would you improve upon the basic sentence, without merely adding more words or switching one word for another? How do you approach description in your writing? And is there a point where things become too descriptive?


Anonymous said...

Eric - Thank you for including me in this really good post. Is there a point where things become to descriptive? I believe so. One of the most important things to remember is to allow the reader to build upon you description. That way it becomes their description and thus get pulled in faster. Also, how the scene impacts the MC is another way to describe what is happening or what is around the MC.

Cassandra Jade said...

I'm often accused of too little description, mostly because writers who busily describe settings tend to bore me (Tolkien). However, I really like what you have done, giving the setting while moving the action along. The setting and description becomes embedded in the story itself, we know where we are but we haven't had to read three or four paragraphs of nothing but details to get there.

Glynis said...

An post I needed to read today. I have been pouring over my WiP, wondering what to do with one of the scenes. I now realise what it needs...descriptive tweeking. Thanks.

Eric said...

Brian - Thanks for your input. I'll have to keep those things in mind as I work on my own WIPs.

Cassandra - I really know what you mean about Tolkien. The Silmarillion was a really tough read (in large part) because of the descriptions. Thank you for the comments though, since what you describe was exactly my intent.

Glynis - I'm so glad I can help. I find gems like this on other's pages as well, so it's good to know I can provide the same inspiration at times.