The Art of Descriptive Writing

Source: Novel Writing Help

Why is descriptive writing so important in a novel? Because unlike movies, novels are not visual.

When you watch a film, all of the “description” is done for you by a camera and a microphone. All writers have are words. So you need to use those words to help the reader see and hear (and smell, taste and touch, too).

You can use them literally (“she wore a red dress”). Or you can write more figuratively. For example…

  • It’s tough to describe the precise look on a character’s face when they’re in a really, reallyfoul mood.
  • But if you say that their face looked like “the sky before a storm,” readers will get the idea.

You may think that it’s impossible for mere “words” to compete with a movie camera. And to an extent, you’re right…

A picture really is worth a thousand words!

On the other hand, novels hold one huge advantage over the big-screen experience: the power of the human imagination.

If you see a beautiful setting on the screen, the visuals can be amazing (no doubt about that). But you’re still forced to accept the director’s version of a “beautiful setting.”

With good descriptive writing, you can paint a picture of this setting using just a few well-chosen details… and leave it up to the reader to complete the picture.

That way, everyone can visualize their own version of this setting.

Description can be powerful, then. But it’s easy to overdo it and end up with slushy writing. So as with a lot of things in novel writing, beware of heavy-handedness.

A little goes a long way!

Stephen King: Good description is a learned skill. It's not just a question of how to; it's a question of how much to.

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