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Description: The Basics
Descriptions are a way to suck your reader into your world. You tell them what’s going on in the world and you do it so well you make it real. In order to make it real, you need to make it feel real. You need to make your reader feel exactly what it is like in that scene.
To do that, you need to make them feel, smell, sound, see, and taste; you need to engage their senses. Sensory details are at the very core of all descriptions and all of them are important.
- Sight – Visual description is the most common form of description, since we take details in primarily through our eyes. I don’t need to impress its importance on you.
- Sound – Behind sight, sound is the other most common sense engaged during description. If we don’t take things in through our eyes, we take them in through our ears. There is a list of words to describe sounds here, here, and here.
- Touch – You can’t always use this sense, because the character isn’t always physically touching something. When they are, though, telling your readers what something feels like can do wonders for your scene. Even when the character isn’t touching something, describing how something feels emotionally or how the character feels about something is very important. There is a list of words to describe how physically touching something feels here, here, and here.
- Smell – I always feel like smell gets short changed in most descriptive passages. Smell is a very powerful sense, especially when it comes to memory. If I smell Wild Berry deodorant, I’m not sitting in front of my computer; I’m in 6th grade science class in the autumn. Scent is also a great way to tell your readers what something is like if your characters can’t see clearly. There is a list of words to describe smells here, here, and here.
- Taste – We naturally associate taste with having something in our mouths, but we can also “taste” things in the air. Most of us know the “taste” of household cleaners, gasoline, cold air, and garbage. There is a list of words to describe tastes here, here, and here.
Adjectives are the describing words that give the reader information about nouns. Nouns tell you what it is and adjectives tell you how it is. Adjectives are your best friends when describing scenes. Most of the links I gave you for the sensory details lead you to lists of adjectives. Here are more adjective lists for your perusal.
Adjectives are fantastic, but remember that adjectives help the noun. They are not the focus of your descriptive sentences. Overuse of adjectives leads to the dreaded purple prose. Likewise, underuse of adjectives leads to beige prose (see below for purple and beige prose). You need to find the happy medium.
You should try to limit yourself to one to three adjectives per sentence. Consider the following sentence:
The cerulean, azure depths of the sparkling sea shimmered with alluring emerald hints.
What I’m trying to say is that the blue sea has green in it. What I’m telling you is a load of mishmash with too many adjectives. It’s too cluttered. Not to mention it contains a bunch unnecessary descriptors. The reader knows that the ocean is primarily blue. They also know it’s sparkling because you mentioned it’s sunny earlier in your description. You don’t need the blue crap or the shimmering crap to create a good description.
The crests of the waves turned green in the sunlight.
There. More specific, less cluttered, and more concise.
You can write descriptions without adjectives, especially by using similes and metaphors (see immediately below).
The woods were a labyrinth.
The leaves burned with autumn colors.
The cactus’ shadow stretched over the old hacienda.
Indeed, I strongly advise you periodically include sentences without adjectives to vary the sentence style in your descriptions.
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