Welcome back! If you’ve seen the first post (clicky clicky), then you’re probably already on your way to editing your story into awesomeness. But sadly, it doesn’t end there. So Momma Felicity is back with tips and tricks to help you with description!
Just like last time, I’ll show you a mediocre sentence then I’ll show you it’s better version. Then I’ll explain what I did to give it it’s missing pop!
#.1 Avoid Word and Info Dumping.
“She had raven hair that cascaded down her shoulders in waves, complimenting her ivory skin and sparkling emerald eyes. Her giggles bubbled up from her throat in joy and captured whomever was in range to hear. She was tall enough to reach the highest shelf in the kitchen cupboard and slender as a willow branch, bowing and rustling in the slightest wind. She glowed when she saw her lover and family.”
Depending on who you are, you either read through all of that and wanted more or were bored and skipped to this sentence.
In most cases, a paragraph that long isn’t encouraged. The only time where it’s excusable if it’s from the P.O.V. of a love-sick lover, love-sick stalker, or just a plain stalker– and one of the reasons why it’s okay is because when people fall in love (or stalk), it’s normal to adore and notice every little detail about the person.
So as an example, this is okay:
“She had raven hair that cascaded down her shoulders in waves, complimenting her ivory skin and sparkling emerald eyes. Her giggles bubbled up from her throat in joy and captured whomever was in range to hear. She was tall enough to reach the highest shelf in the kitchen cupboard and slender as a willow branch, bowing and rustling in the slightest wind. She glowed when she saw her lover- a lover that wasn’t me.”
But this is not normally okay:
“She had raven hair that cascaded down her shoulders in waves, complimenting her ivory skin and sparkling emerald eyes. Her giggles bubbled up from her throat in joy and captured whomever was in range to hear. She was tall enough to reach the highest shelf in the kitchen cupboard and slender as a willow branch, bowing and rustling in the slightest wind. I hated her with every fiber of my being.”
Woah! Hold on, bucko- so you’re telling me you noticed every little nice thing about her just to say that you hate it? You’re either lying, or you’re one petty antagonist that loves to depress themselves. In other words, it’s not realistic.
If you’re info dumping from the bad guy’s point of view, make it an info dump about everything they hate about the person.
“Her frizzy black hair hung limply down her back, framing her ghostly pale skin and dull green eyes. Her laughs were high pitched and screechy which were akin to silverware dragged across glass china. She was tall and bony, able to be knocked off her feet with just a simple puff of the breath- a walking skeleton. If she was charming, then my dead and decaying aunt would be breath-taking.”
There we go! This person is saltier than the Dead Sea in the Middle East, and it fits them way more than what the other paragraph did. The more believeable something is, the better we’re able to relate or understand to feelings or situations.
#1 1/2. Avoid Word and Info Dumping 2.0
Now, then… what happens if your character isn’t love-sick, a love-sick stalker, a stalker, a petty antagonist, or a salty antagonist?
No worries! I still got your back.
If it’s from the view point of a friend, they’ll notice a lot less things about the person than all the others mentioned above do. They aren’t constantly looking for tiny things to compliment or adore. Those friends, however, will notice large changes in either the person’s personality or appearance. Write what the character notices, and leave out what’s familiar to the character to keep from overloading your audience with description.
“Sun streamed through the branches of the woods. Particles in the air danced in the wind as the rays died down with the setting sun, animals skittering and getting ready for nightfall. As I came closer, I smelled a perfume carried by the wind. Then suddenly familiar locks of inky black hair greeted my eyes as I walked towards our ordained meeting spot in the forest. Persephonie turned towards me and grinned when she had noticed me from afar, her face lighting up with unrestrained joy. Something had happened during my absence.”
There really isn’t anything wrong with this sentence, right? Gives you a nice visual?
We can make it just as great in about half the words that the previous paragraph used.
“Familiar locks of inky black hair greeted my eyes as I walked towards our oppointed meeting spot in the quickly dimming forest. Persephonie turned towards me and grinned, her face lighting up with unrestrained joy. Something had happened during my absence.”
If the friend meeting the character already knows the area and has already been well described previously for the reader’s benefit, there’s not a lot of need to redescribe it again- unless there’s something different or their opinion has changed on the area.
The reason why “familiar locks of inky black hair” does not fall under this rule is because it’s become one her most defining features, the thing that makes her recognizable. Think of her hair as Indiana Jones’ hat. It’s become their iconic feature, so feel free to leave that in as long as you haven’t mentioned that particular feature of theirs 3 times already in the same paragraph.
#. 2 Write What Your Character Notices
Did you notice a running theme during “Avoid Word And Info Dumping” #.1 and 2.0? For those of who didn’t catch on right away, lemme lay it out for you-
Write what your character notices.
“Walking into the building, my heels clicked on the glossy tiles of the floor and echoed in the empty foyer. Sun shone through the windows and reflected off of the stainless steel accents on the walls opposite to the elevators. Water dripped quietly back into it’s pool as the fountain ran as usual The receptionist at the granite counter grinned at me happily, chirping out a ‘Good morning,’ as I passed and gave me my company badge for the elevator after I flashed my I.D. The place was so fancy to the point to where they didn’t want any chance of ‘peasants’ getting into the upper offices.”
For the most part this is alright, but it’s not accurate. Someone does usually notice heels clicking against the floor and people will notice when light reflects off of something because it’s in their eyes.
Where’s the sunglasses?
If the room is not usually empty, they’ll notice that too. However, if it’s a busy day and have other things on their mind (or is used to said thing), they won’t notice what the counters are made of or even fully register what people are saying to them.
(Fun fact: If you have to say “as usual,” the characters probably won’t notice it- and therefore, is not a needed detail)
And I doubt that the character would remark on how fancy the place is by this point. If anything, she would be tired with having to get her badge just to get into the elevator everyday.
“Walking into the building, my heels clicked sharply against the glossy tiles on the floor and echoed in the empty foyer. Sun shone through the windows and glared off of the stainless steel accents on the walls opposite to the elevators as water quietly splashed from the fountain in the background. I flashed my I.D. at the grinning receptionist behind the counter in exchange for my company badge for the elevators. I still couldn’t understand why they issued badges for the elevators- it wasn’t like people snuck in to peek at the upper offices on a regular basis.”
This is a LOT more believeable. We’re seeing and experiencing what the character is going through, so it draws us in further.
Keep in mind that since you’re writing what the character notices, the character might notice different things depending on their personality. Where one character might notice an empty foyer as they walk in, they won’t notice the dirty windows- or visa versa.
Know what captures your character’s attention, and use that knowledge to write what they notice.
So here we were again with one of my most popular posts “Composing to Capture.” I was seriously stunned with all of the attention that the post got, and it’s all thanks to you guys! I really appreciate all the feedback. Thank you for taking time to read my posts!