When I first started writing, I had the hardest time writing vivid descriptions. Instead of pulling the reader into my scene, I would tell them what was happening with the least amount of words possible. However, I learned quickly that it is the writer’s job to provide a vicarious experience for your reader. This does not mean you need to bombard your reader with too many details, but to gradually draw them into your story with active descriptions that make them feel as if they are right there with the main character.
By stimulating your reader’s imagination with vivid and clear descriptions, you not only make stories come alive, but more memorable. Using concrete and specific details help paint a picture for your reader and you can do this by carefully choosing the right words to describe something, which makes your reader use all five senses. Not only can they imagine what is happening, but they can also feel, smell, and hear what they read.
Okay, so how did I learn to do this? One way I learned, was by my ICL instructor pointing out all my flaws with details. The other way I learned was by buying Picture Writing, by Anastasia Suen. If you have not read this book, I strongly suggest you do if you have trouble with too many details or not enough description. What is great about this book is Anastasia not only covers fiction writing, but also nonfiction and poetry as well.
I learned from Anastasia that picture writing using the whole brain. That means not just your creative half. Wow, I thought, this is great news. I tend to use my local side more than my creative side. Therefore, this means there was hope for my writing. I’m happy to say between my ICL course and Anastasia’s book, I am much better about vivid descriptions, so here are a few things to keep in mind when write.
- Avoid abstract and general words. Don't just say a girl is beautiful. Instead, describe how she looks, walks, moves her body, etc.
- When using description, make sure to use as many of the five senses—touch, sound, taste, sight, and scent—to help stimulate your reader’s imagination.
- Use words that spark emotion. In Anastasia’s book, Picture Writing she talks about what editors what to see. She says, “What makes readers turn the page is an emotional connection to the characters in the story. Reader’s aren’t’ reading fiction for facts or information.”
- Give life to inanimate objects, abstracts, or animals. By giving human characteristics, a reader can relate better to what you are trying to show them.
- Use onomatopoetic words. These words imitate the sound they describe. An example would be: buzzing for a bee or fly. Another would be: bang for a hammer or something falling to the floor.
- Use comparisons or contrasts. This is great tool for something foreign or not common to a reader. For example, “a calamansi fruit tastes like an orange, but is less sweet and more sour.”
These simple suggestions have really helped me and I am sure they will help you. Just remember to use fresh words in your descriptions. Forget about writing, "They walked slowly to the park." Instead, think about just how slowly did they walk? Did they trudge? Did they drag they feet? Remember, if you want your reader to experience the same things you've experienced - or experience something you've imagined - write and describe it well.
VS Grenier, Award-winning Author & Editor
The Writing Mama