Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Description is important in every story, from setting the scene to the quirks that make your characters come to life.
We all have our own techniques when it comes to description: the minimal approach where the reader is left to fill in the blanks or in-depth where the reader knows the size, shape, and smell of every object in the room. Both ways, and every level in between, are acceptable but none will appeal to every reader’s individual taste. Start with the basics.
How does something look? What size, shape, colour is the object? Once you've covered the overall appearance, add a little more depth by incorporating the rest of the senses. An object is not defined by what is visible alone. The smell, taste, sound, and feel help bring this object to life for readers.
My personal favourite technique is to add a little of how these senses make the character feel; maybe one of these senses triggers an emotion within the character. Perhaps the smokey smell of a fire will always bring back the memory of their first kiss at a bonfire party. Maybe the sight of the chip in their favourite mug always reminds them of their wild housewarming party where it fell off a ledge.
I find that adding small details like these not only helps build a depth to the character but avoids the writer's description overload in one go. Plus, most people have a memory tied to specific objects and this helps to make your description more relatable to the reader.
Your description creates the world within your reader’s minds, whatever technique you choose to use.
About the author: Amy Hickman is an author, member of the winning Writer's Games team (The Red Herrings) for two years running, and admin at The Writer's Workout.