This is the first post in a 5 post series on using the 5 senses in your writing, specifically in descriptions.
The sense of sight is the most used sense when it comes to descriptions.
Why? Because it creates a picture in your reader’s minds.
The most common way to use sight in descriptions is by simply listing things you can observe about the thing you are describing.
Example: she had brown hair and bright green eyes, with freckles dusting her nose.
You should practice observation by noticing the details of the world around you because once you fall into the habit of actually looking at the world describing things on paper become easier.
Seeing and looking are two different things, while seeing comes naturally looking is something all writers should practice.
A good writing practice for observation is to take a bunch of different objects and place them in front of you and simply listing their details.
Adding to your observations.
I said that the most common way to write a description is by simply listing observations. Although this is true listing observations should be your base for your descriptions not your entire descriptions. For a powerful description you need to add a few things.
The first way to improve your descriptions is by adding a bit of personality.
How you describe something gives insights into the character out of whose view point you are writing. This falls down to what parts of what is seen you describe, and what words do you use to describe it with.
I read a good example of this last week in Percy Jackson and the Titan’s curse.
The description goes as follows.
“He was tall, with a hawkish face. His nostrils flared when he spoke, which made it really hard not to stare up his nose, and his eyes where two different colours – one brown and one blue – like an alley cat’s.”
Now the picture that I see from this looks something like the picture here.
Notice how the description focused on the nose and the eyes. Not just because this is the character’s most distinct qualities but also because this is the sort of things Percy notice.
Not being able to help but stare up his nose? Like an alley cat? Even the manner in which the man is described shows some insight into Percy.
I shared a writing practice here somewhere last year that I think once modified could work here too.
Decide on a scene or object and using only the sense of sight describe it from the point of view of a young boy. Now describe the same scene from the point of view of a young soldier and again from the point of view of a mother. Then the last time write the description again from the point of view of an old man.
Do you notice how different things are in each piece of writing?
Another way to build on your observation is to use details.
I’m not saying you should go detail crazy and describe everything in such a way that you double your stories word count.
What I’m saying is that when you describe something mention one or two smaller details such as a chip in the china cup or the young girl’s long eyelashes.
“Good writing is remembering detail. Most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that where painful, embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth.”
Reasons why sight in descriptions are so important.
I already said that it builds an image in your reader’s imagination.
What I want to tell you now is that it shows your reader the world the way someone else does, and that is a powerful thing to be able to do.
I already mentioned how you should add personality of your point of view character to your descriptions. Well how they see things aren’t always going to be how your reader see them and it gives you the chance to show people a different perspective on things.
I have a pretty fun writing practice for this.
Make a list of maybe five things you think are ugly…
Now write a description for each of them as if they are the most beautiful things to ever exist.
The second reason the power of sight in a description is so important is because it can be used to highlight change.
I have tons of examples for this one. We have all read at least one book where the main character started out as scrawny and then after his character arch is a full blown hero right?
Well my favorite examples are surprisingly not one of those.
My favorite happens to be Erin from the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. Since not a lot of people have read this book I do not plan to use this example. (Seriously though go read those books.)
I think you know about Ginny Weasley don’t you? If not then I’ll simply assume you live under a rock and you should go read Harry Potter immediately.
The first description of Ginny is of a little shy girl with red hair who hid behind her mother.
I can’t remember the last description J.K. Rowling gave of her but I’m pretty sure that it was not like that. In the end we all know that Ginny was a gorgeous badass that had helped Neville with Dumbledore’s army.
Not only did her attitude change but the way people saw her changed as well.
So because people see her different her description is different. Reminding the reader that she is no longer the same little girl she was in book one.
How was this post? Do you think I missed something? Do you handle descriptions any differently?
As always I hope you found this useful and for a quick reminder next week I’m writing about the sense of hearing and I hope you are all as excited about that as I am.