Describe description

Joe’s Post #165

potterWell, it’s time for me to do a series. Every book I write I envision as a trilogy so I’m all about coming up with one idea and making a ton of books from it. Like JK Rowling. Only she’s super successful.

Anyway, for the next few weeks, I want to look at the basics. Plot. Theme. Characters. Dialogue. Pacing. And the toughest nut for me to crack – Emotion. Not that I’ll give you any great advice (I’ll leave that for others), but I want to explore those topics a bit. As a writer.

First up (you guessed it) – Description.

For some people, description comes easy. Like Joe Montana throwing a football. Or Donald Trump insulting people. Or the Canucks losing.

For me, it’s a struggle. I want to move on with plot and character and if the reader can’t see what’s in my head, then that’s their problem, not mine, right?

One day, Apple or Google or that Elon Musk robot will invent a virtual book that downloads what’s in the writer’s mind. Until that day (and God help me if they don’t put some sort of adult content filter in there), I have to come up with decent descriptions of my characters and the places they inhabit.

Drawings might work, sure, or fancy-schmancy photos but (sadly), not many best sellers come with pictures. At least until I write one…

So that leaves me having to come up with settings that ring true.

If you want to check out a few authors who have recommendations on this, check out the links below, but let me tell you about how I get the job done.

My 4 rules on it are…

  • Setting MUST be seen through the eyes of your character. I mean, look at how an undercover cop would walk into a restaurant. He’d look for exits, people not donutssupposed to be there, and donuts. An interior decorator might notice how the the blood pooling on floor clashes with the green and yellow checkered floor. An erotic novelist might notice the hunky guy working in the kitchen, shirtless from the heat, his six pack glistening with sweat while he washes his giant cucumber. (Like in life, we all see things differently.)
  • I must have a photo or painting of the place, or have visited it myself. A picture is good, and even with google maps, I can haul out all sorts of interesting details. But nothing beats being there. Why? Because I can get an idea of the other things that matter in good description. Smells. Sounds. The feel of a dusty brick. The taste of penis shaped peppers. Whatever. If I am there and using my writing brain, then I can create something that’s real, because it is real.
  • dorothyIf there aren’t pictures or I can’t be there (like going back to ancient Egypt), then I will read what other novelists have written. Want to know what the roofs of Florence were like in 1724, then read Dorothy Dunnett. But be careful, you have to trust the source. I’m not convinced everyone’s done their homework, I mean, movie-wise, look at Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood. It’s frigging painful.
  • chekovIt’s all about bringing a world to life, so I do my best to add small details. Like my man Chekov said…

So that’s how I get it done. Or at least try to.

I can rely on my imagination, but unlike a friend of mine who can picture a whole scene in her novel like a movie in her head, my mind is a disorganized jumble of images and thoughts. Do I have to pick up the kids? What are my key plot points? What’s that song I keep hearing in my head? Where did I leave my iphone? What characters will be on stage in this scene? What themes will I forget about? Who was that half-naked woman that I looked up because of, ah, research?

No room for organized description, you see. Reality is my only hope.

So… How do you do description?


11 Secrets to Writing Effective Description (cuz 10 isn’t good enough)

3 Must Know Ways for Creating Meaningful Settings. (K.M. Weiland includes my most difficult of writing challenges  Emotion!)

Stephen King (though he pretty much says ignore everything I just said and write, dammit!)

Novel Writing Help  (with some good examples)

Word Painting (more cool ideas)

Does it make sense?

Xmas tree

Karalee’s Post #15

Yesterday was spectacular.

Christmas day.

If you celebrate this occasion, the above two words conjure as many different memories or expectations as there are people celebrating it, or not celebrating as may be the case. But hands down I’d bet the entire Christmas turkey that my family enjoyed, that a common thread in those memories include an inundation of the senses.


For instance, the turkey.

As a child one of my strongest memories is running into the house after playing outside in the snow for a few hours and smelling the turkey still in the oven and the freshly cooked huckleberry pies cooling on the counter. And I can easily picture the golden brown bird resting on the counter and feel my mouth watering in anticipation of the first mouthful. As writers we have probably learned that the greatest trigger of memory is the sense of smell, but as children we learned that plugging our noses to obstruct the smell decreases the sense of taste of those “special” Brussels sprouts or broccoli passed around the table along with the turkey.

The dinner table is full of bantering as we fill our plates. Then there’s the inevitable exclamation of my mother’s at forgetting the buns warming in the oven or one of the vegetable dishes left on the counter in the kitchen.

All of this busyness is followed by momentary quietness as we eat.

Except it isn’t really quiet if you listen. There’s utensils scraping the plates, the clunk of wine or water glasses being placed back down on the table, the Christmas music in the background, someone coughing or sneezing, the chewing of food, a chair scraping the floor, a vehicle driving by outside, or snow (or rain) being blown against the window in the dining room.

And we smell, taste, and see the food as well as the room with its decorated table and special plates and candles. We look at each other and feel the companionship (unless someone fights over the second turkey leg) and the overheated house from cooking all the food.

It’s all part of the ambiance, the setting, the experience of the moment.

It makes me pause and remember that our writing needs all these senses; the sights, scents, sounds, tastes, and feelings whether emotional or physical.

And the reader needs to experience important moments in the fullest sense.

And of course, the moment must make sense to the plot.

Does your writing have these moments?

Christmas festivities have distracted our 5Writer’s group this week and I can guarantee all of us have had our senses stimulated too, whether dancing and eating on a cruise ship, running after grandchildren, or visiting with friends and family.

I challenge all of us to fill our writing with the five senses. I tend to use mostly sight and sound, but am going to be more cognizant of them all. There’s no time to go back and improve my story at this point as time is flying too fast to even smell the roses (I expect for all of us except for Joe who can have a bouquet in every room or one in all of his character’s hair or even squeeze the rose buds into gallons of perfume).

Wine glassI wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and I raise my glass to all of our senses that make our experiences possible.