Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Detailing Description

When we create worlds, lives, and events, we want to share with the reader details of our settings, characters, and action. We want our readers to sink themselves into our stories and ‘see’ for themselves. At the same time, we don’t want to drown them in endless specific detail.

The trick is finding the right balance of detail so we engage our readers rather than bore them. We need to include details that say something about our characters, details that include sensory cues such as sound, smell, taste, touch as well as sight.

Find the distinct details—the details that add atmosphere, tone, voice. The rest the reader can fill in.

What are some details you like to include in your descriptions?

Note: This post is part of the A-Z Challenge. I will be posting Monday-Saturday during April corresponding to the letters of the alphabet.


  1. What happened? Did I get lost in time again? It is dark in this room, just the light from my laptop. Maybe I saw wrong, I know I need glasses. I read too much in dark spaces. I don't think I fell asleep but somehow I feel like I am missing something. Is it D-day already :)

  2. I like my characters to have some little quirk or other. Says she twisting a clump of hair around her finger.

  3. I do love me some details, and hate the books which have none, but as always the balance is what we need, and what you said - details, no matter how much of them, should always be connected to the story and they should always have some role!

  4. I have a tendency to gloss over these ... but it's important to have them, and their crucial to worldbuilding. Integrating the details into the narrative is key rather than having huge blocks of description, I think.

  5. I Love Lauren kates books because its like watching a movie!

    Amanda hockings tho, sometimes I have no idea what the character looks like.

  6. For me it depends on what's happening in the scene. I try to echo that in the descriptions.

  7. I probably don't provide enough, but I like books where I get to use my imagination.

  8. What a lovely post!! I'd love to be able to include all senses in my sentences as succinctly and intelligently as possible. It;s very very hard work!!! But I'd like to think something that makes me sweat blood and gives me calloused hands and exhaustes fingers are worth it!! Take care

  9. I'm a big fan of reading lots of description, but I try to go a little leaner on my writing.

    I think a lot of it depends on your setting. If you're writing in a setting that most of your readers are already familiar with, it's probably okay to stick to only the most important parts. If, however, you're writing for an American audience about a character living in China, then you should go big on description (as long as you make sure it flows well with the story).

    And yes, your picture totally inspired my comment. :)

  10. I use a lot of smells and sounds, the visual stuff is limited so readers can create their own pictures.

  11. When I read I prefer to make up my own picture of the characters. When I write I find it easy to describe the animals in my stories but tend to forget about the humans. :o)

  12. When I read something, I enjoy thorough descriptions, but to many similes make it difficult for me to fill in the rest of the details, like you said. Sometimes I even discard what description a character might have and create my own, because I don't like how the writer made them.:)

  13. i'm ALWAYS using sight details, so i have to consciously stop every now and then and think through all the other senses to make the world feel more balanced! :)

  14. For some reason, I like to include what a room smells like. I don't have a particularly keen sense of smell (my husband does, and it drives me crazy! He's always walking around sniffing and saying, "what's that smell?"), but I like to imagine what smells a setting will have.

  15. Great post! I think filtering description through character is essential. If you character notices smell for instance, that would come up more often than other senses. If your MC is miserable they will notice the gray horizon, etc.

  16. These are really good points about description. I like to make my characters interract with their surroundings because that way I can describe the setting in an active way that brings texture and vitality to the writing.


  17. Great post, as always. I like to add texture. It's amazing how tactile folks are. Texture gives them a very real sense of place and tone in so few words. Thanks very much, peace,


  18. Great post!
    I try to address the five senses. When I enter my world, I list what I see, what I smell, what I hear... you get it. It helps.

  19. I use the senses--all five of them. I give specify, not generalize: an Aston martin, not a Car. When it comes to characterization, I believe in picking out one teling detail rather than describing the character's appearance.

    Thanks for your visit to my blog, and I hope you come by again.

  20. The five senses of course, but I also give my characters little quirks. Something rooted in their past that the reader might not know about - yet.

  21. I find it really hard sometimes to draw the line between just enough and too much. I've read quite a few books where I just wanted to cry because there was so much detail it was painful, but then other books where it's hard to get a clear picture in your mind. I guess that's why so many writers are such avid readers, we can learn what NOT to do as much as what to actually do. I try to use all the senses, but sometimes I feel like I'm telling instead of showing when I'm using the sense of sight, so I try to add in a few others as well.

    Another excellent post, I think you're the first blogger that I've consistently read each challenge blog for!

  22. I always try to include sounds and, when possible, taste. Taste is such a hard sense to include, but I think it adds a particular dimension that's usually missing. I can't say that it's always possible, but I love it when the air tastes like something--both in real life and in fiction.

    East for Green Eyes

  23. I'm big on the five senses as well. If you place yourself where your character is, you can pick up on details that allow the reader to see, hear, taste, touch, and feel what is happening, and I think that is key.

  24. Siv, yarp, I'll be posting ahead of everyone because I'm a rebel (and an Aussie).

    Bish, yes, that adds interest to them.

    Dezzy, yep, some books make me feel blind. Especially if they suddenly throw in a detail that so unexpected and I have to reorder my mental images.

    Sarah, exactly

    Read, true, Lauren Kate is good on the visuals. I haven't read any Hocking. I guess I should ;)

    Holly, definitely

    Alex, nah, I had no trouble picturing everything and getting into the cool story events.

    old Kitty, definitely worth it :)

    Emily, oh definitely. I love rich description when it fits into the novel and doesn't slow down the pace.

  25. Hannah, smell and sounds is a fantastic way of making the prose richer.

    Niki, hehe. I think that's why movie adaptations can flop so often --because we have our own view of what the characters look like.

    Mist, hahaaha, yep that's common (I do it too).

    aspiring, yep, I've had to stop and think too to add the other sensory details.

    Susan, smell is so important.

    Lisa, exactly

    Jai, yes! interaction is a great way of describing the surroundings without having to dump all the info. Plus it makes everything more interesting.

  26. D M Solis, great point. Texture is important.

    Alison, it's amazing the difference the 5 senses make.

    damyantiwrites, yes! specificity adds so much to description without adding a lot of words.

    Kari, nice :)

    SweetMarie, yes, reading is a great way to gain insight. Aw, and thanks...that means a lot to me :)

    Rosie, Taste is difficult but, like you said, adds that extra dimension.

    Paul, getting into the shoes of our characters...absolutely.

  27. Really great post, enjoyed it. You have a lovely blog, beautiful creative stuff :)

    All the best
    Short Poems

  28. It can sometimes be a fine line between great detail and cloying detail. I like to describe the certain movement of characters like what they do with their eyes or hands etc...when they speak and listen to others.

    Duncan In Kuantan

  29. I like to add details, especially sound and sight. I would love to incorporate the other senses too.

    Loved the post on consistency. For my current WIP, I have deleted chunks which I felt were inconsistent and had a jarring effect with the rest of the book.

  30. I think the adage 'less is more' is the most appropriate when adding description to narrative.

  31. I never add in enough description but when I do, I like to add the quirky stuff, the stuff that the reader will remember.

  32. Occasionally, I'll add the physical description, but I prefer to add the psychological details. Something like "The house seemed to sigh around them, as though even it could not believe that Laura was going to take the final step."

  33. I'm with Bish - I like that, too. I always love to talk about wardrobe, too.

  34. I tend to be kind of sparse on description, so I try to nail the most important aspects...or things the character notices (which gives some insight into their personality). I also try to touch on all the senses, sight, touch, smell, sound, etc.

  35. I love detail but I hate getting lost in the detail. There has to be a happy medium! Great post!

  36. thanks for the solid post, i think i go overboard.
    "D" is the Word...
    A to Z Blog Challenge Participant
    Jeremy [iZombie]

  37. I like the weather to be evident in a story as it can reflect emotions in a certain way.

  38. Absolutely! And balance is key. If there is too much detail in a novel, my eyes and mind start skimmin'! But not enough makes me feel unanchored. Happy Detail Day!

  39. An excellent post. Details are so important, but we must also limit our description and keep it smooth without a lot of past tense verbs.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

  40. I love these writing tips, so glad I found this blog!

  41. I LOVE sensory detail. It pulls me in.

  42. I think details should sketch the scene and imagination should be the shade. :)

  43. I love meaty descriptions which leave my imagination leeway to fill in. Like I don't want to read down to a minute detail what something or someone looks like. Too much. I do like detail that protrays a mood most.

  44. One has to find a balance though, too much and I personally start flipping pages.

  45. I love a balance of sensory and physical details that give an overall impression--nothing that's down to the finer points, otherwise I'll skim to dialogue or something else.

  46. I'd probably be described as an underwriter, not using enough description. But I do try to include all of the senses where possible.

    For me, too much description is a turn-off.

    Ellie Garratt

  47. love to write lots of detail, hate to read lots of details... I have something for colours and textures!
    ('scuse the rittish spelling)

  48. Balance is essential. We need some description, but when there is too much ... I find myself skimming those sections of a book to get back to the meat of the story.


  49. Marinela, thanks :)

    Duncan, character description in that way is good otherwise the ms will come across like a screenplay.

    Rachna, yes, it's those extra little details that make a difference (don't need a lot). Well done on deleting chunks--not always easy :)

    Rosalind, yes indeed

    Clarissa, quirky is good. At the moment I'm reading a Koontz novel and the MC keeps thinking about his ugly feet. I find it quirky and endearing (and certainly memorable).

    Amber, yes! that pychological level is a great way of adding detail.

    Talli, me too--wardrobe can say so much about a character.

    Ibdiamond, sensory details make a big difference.

  50. Jennee, yep, getting lost in detail detracts from the story.

    iZombie, it's easy to cut back :)

    Amy, yep I often tie in weather and emotion too.

    Carol, yep, I skim too when there are big chunks of detail. I have too many books to read to waste time on walls-o-description ;)

    Nancy, yes, that's the key: keeping it part of the flow of the story.

    Kim, it's so good to see you here :)

    Shari, yes indeed

    Jayne, nicely said.

    M Pax, exactly

    Myne, same

    Golden, yep, an overview--enough to give the reader the impression and the mood.

    Ellie, yep, same.

    Angela, indeed ;)

    Dancing, hehe, yep, I hear you :)

    Margo, when I skim my own work, I know I need to tighten it some more ;)

  51. Atmosphere is a big one for me. Being able to get a feel for the sensory elements of the environment helps to immerse me into the story. Kari Sperring's Living With Ghosts is a pretty damn good one at this. Using things like smell and touch can help a great deal in establishing character traits as well as world building.

  52. Great post. I did mine on delicious description. :O)


I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.