Today we’re going to talk about description as it applies to writing. I’ll try to make it entertaining. I mean, “And then Morgan came up with a writing topic while doing a sick 360° spin off the half-pipe and totally landed it!” Okay, I tried.
I’m going to discuss a few authors that I’ve come to know and what they do. I think they’ll be glad I mentioned them, but I did ask first. I’ll be linking their pages at the bottom of the post.
Let me first talk a little about narrative description and what it means to me. When I’m reading I want to go somewhere away from whatever I am, whatever I’m doing and whoever I am. Description helps me find the place that is in the writer’s mind and go along with what they’re trying to tell me. Granted, that sounded better in my head, but I think it’s the best way to set a scene. A writer doesn’t need to be super-flowery or toss out the obscure metaphors or go crazy describing each inch of the room, but it’s best to set the table so the reader has the tools they need to eat it all up.
Eileen Troemel was the first professional writer I met on Facebook and the first person I had a conversation with where I wasn’t scared of getting uncouth pictures suddenly. She has written so many Sci-Fi romance novels that I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up on reading or writing that many. Eileen has great grammar, great diction, fantastic word choice, good story and middling to good descriptive ability. I have enormous respect for Eileen and her work, but looking at it critically it has two minor issues. We’re only looking at her descriptive ability today.
That being said, it really was a fantastic book and people should look her up and read her stuff if you’re interested Sci-Fi Romance.
The book I read of hers took place on a space freighter. Lots of dark nooks and crannies and lots of whatnot, but I never got a sense of color, a splash of character or something that might be out of place on a space freighter. These things act as an anchor in a reader’s mind. “Oh, they’re back in the room with glowing green carpet.” “Isn’t that next to the statue of the alien leader they found?” “Oh, so the hallways are round so they work in all directions!” You would remember a room with a glowing green carpet, trust me. I close my eyes and I remember the characters and how I envisioned them, but they’re walking around in gray boxy quarters, next to gray steel walls, etc. She took me away, but there needed to be little details tossed in to really build the world.
The second writer I want to discuss is Steve Sanford. I’ve read his short story “HALLUCINANGEL” and I’m most of the way through “The Problem with Morgan”, which has nothing to do with me despite the name. I met Steve when he posted a notice about The Problem with Morgan and we got to talking. Steve has had a great deal of challenges in his life and is new to writing, but he’s really taken off with it.
Steve has mediocre grammar, okay diction, good story and okay to middling descriptive ability. This sounds kind of insulting, but Steve hasn’t always liked to read and write like most authors. He has a lot of room to improve and he’ll probably read this, so here’s how I’m helping him.
Steve does very little description. What’s there is a great start, but it’s not enough. My suggestion is this. Close your eyes. Build the room around you like a set or a model. Is it too drab? Should it be drab? Add something! A glowing carpet! A pipe across the ceiling, maybe used later, maybe not. Oh, are the walls cinder-block with decades of paint chipping away? Can we hear water dripping in the walls? You can see that room in your head now. It’s probably kind of dark and only illuminated by that damn, weird carpet. Sounds underground to me, possibly has torn posters on the wall (a great detail I would go back and add if I was writing this).
Finally, how do I do my descriptions? The business I’m in relies a lot on what characters are wearing and what they’re doing or having done to them. I’ll try to describe the character when they are first introduced and then try to describe surroundings. The more important it is to the story the more work goes into it. A coffee shop where the character catches something on the news gets a line if that. The chamber where she’s being kept gets plenty. She has a lot of time to explore the setting, therefore, I do as well. It’s a good rule to stick with.
More description is given to things that are alien or unique to the experience. Not having a description of an alien hangar bay, or an alien medical facility is not helping you or your readers. There’s a lot of things that could go in that space. Let us see what you see in your imagination; I promise I’ll try my best to show you what’s in mine.