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The Essential Elements of Description

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | The Art of Description

Tracy Culleton

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These are the most important elements to remember when it comes to description:

  • The reader needs description to paint the picture of a location or scene in their head, but too much bogs down the story, slows the pace and detracts from the forward movement of the plot.
  • It’s essential to describe your characters as soon as possible after they’re introduced. But, don’t over describe them – let the reader fill in their own details, this enables them to cement a picture of the character in their mind.
  • Use the five senses as much as possible, think about what your character can hear, see, smell. Think about touch and taste. Don’t use too many senses in each scene, but use them to paint a real, tangible picture.
  • Use colour well.
  • Practise writing description – e.g. describe characters whose pictures you have found in magazines, or describe a room you’ve visited.
  • Don’t overdo description – remember the join-the-dots rule – let the reader fill in some detail for themselves.
  • Metaphors can be very powerful in description, evoking a mood or theme that runs through your story. Don’t forget, if you’ve heard it before it’s a cliché – to be avoided at all costs – you are a writer, be creative, come up with your own metaphors and similes.
  • Use description to develop mood – a stormy day, a bright white apartment.
  • Tie description to action to show the reader rather than tell them what is happening.
  • Be aware of what you can assume the reader knows (e.g. the shape of a newspaper), and what they don’t know.
  • Quirky details are good – they stand out in the reader’s mind. Do your research and build on a small detail to inform the reader about your characters and locations.

About the author

Tracy Culleton runs the www.fiction-writers-mentor.com, and works extensively for Inkwell Writers Workshops.

Born in Dublin in 1964, she has been writing all her life, but began her professional writing career in 2002 with the non-fiction book Simply Vegetarian’. Her fiction career began when she won the 2003 ‘Write a Bestseller’ Competition jointly run by Poolbeg and RTE’s Open House. This winning novel, Looking Good’, went on to spend three weeks in the top ten. Loving Lucy’ was published in 2004 and ‘More Than Friends’ in 2005. She is currently working on her fourth novel, Grace Under Pressure’.

Tracy has extensive experience in adult education, having worked with NALA as an adult literacy tutor. Tracy is an expert in EFL and has a special interest in the reasons for, and the cures for, writer’s block. She has written a non fiction book on the subject, available as a free e-Book on her website www.fiction-writers-mentor.com

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