Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Write Good Description

Yes, I know, a post on this from me? Yeah, well, I was reading a scene from Beautiful Creatures this morning, and I realized something I liked about Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's description: They don't just say "Ethan sat in the chair." (Like I would, lol.) They give details:

  • A brief mention of who owed the chair. (Ethan's mom.)
    • How she got it.(A gift)
    • Why the gift was given. (good grades at college.)
  • How the chair makes Ethan feel, physically. (It's not a chair that feels relaxing.)
  • How the chair makes Ethan feel, mentally. (It makes him feel closer to his mom, who has died.)
  • Later on in the scene after commenting on some other scenery, Ethan mentions that, overall, being there makes him think of his mom holding him as a boy. (A childhood memory.)
Beautiful Creatures, page 421, hardback edition. (So you can look it up. I'm not sure if posting direct text is allow. There's also another good bit of description on the next page, about a recipe of Ethan's mom's,)
You guys get the idea of that, right? Here's how it would work applying it to a room in my house(So you can see this applied to actual writing, not just me giving a summery and page number to a book.):

Allison walks into the living room, or as her family calls in, the non-living room because of how much time was spent there. Her eyes catch the big mirror with the gold-colored trim that her parents got as a wedding gift thirty years ago. She walks up to a tan chair that she finished reading one of her favorite books, Beautiful Creatures, in. Despite that fact that the chair is also thirty years old, it's comfortable. She sits down in the chair and eyes one of the couches in the room. It has big purple and white vertical stripes. Allison can't remember a time without that couch. When she was little, it had the ugly stripes, but until recently it had a red cover. After her nephew, Jack, had been born, her mom had taken off the cover, to reveal the stripes again. Although her mother said it was because she was tired of the red cover-up, Allison couldn't help but ponder if the real reason was she didn't want to get baby pee on the cover, mom is now using the couch as a changing table for Jack.
Her eyes fall on the floor, remembering playing with American Girl dolls there with her friends. She could still remember having talks with her friends about how the doll's character would say things "in the books." Even as  a child, Allison had respect for books. 
Finally, Allison leaves the room, unable to stand the annoying clock with the swinging pendulum in the corner. She wishes her mom hadn't put batteries back in the thing, because she can't stand ticking clocks--something her mom finds relaxing. Allison winces, everything in that room is old or annoying--or both. Her parents sure can be cheap when it comes to decorating. 

Okay, so ignoring some of the flaws with the writing in this scene, let's break the scene down.

  • The living room is called the 'non-living room' because of how much time is spent there. The room has a nickname.
  • I didn't just describe the old mirror, I stated it's age and how my parents got it.
  • I mention the color of an old tan chair, a memory I associate with it, and how it feels physically. 
  • I mention the ugly couch that my mom is using a changing table, that's its been around all my life, etc, etc.
  • I mention childhood memories, like playing dolls with my friends. I even mention a bit of what I was like as a little girl.
  • I mention what I can hear (the clock) and how it makes me feel (annoyed) and how it makes my mom feel. (relaxed.) Try and include how things make other characters feel, too, if you can; it can help show things about their character.
Well, this gives us a problem... What if the character is arriving to a new place? Well, perhaps I will cover that in a blog post soon!


  1. Great post, Allison! I was feeling discouraged about my description today but this is good advice on how to fix it.

    1. Thanks! I know I'd heard this advice before (tie description into memories.) but I didn't realize how good advice it truly was until I saw it in a book I liked. :) It makes your scene feel more realistic, and the characters more relatable. :)