Writing description – pitfalls to avoid
Description can be difficult to write. In contrast to dialogue and action, description does not move the story forward. Nonetheless, it is important since it provides your reader with sensory information. The more vivid the images you create, the more immersed the reader will become with the story.
As with anything, writing good description comes from lots of practice, which includes reading many books. But there are certain pitfalls that you should be aware of and avoid as much as possible.
- Avoid using adverbs (words ending with –ly)
Look at the original examples below and their improved versions. I think you will agree that the second statement is way more powerful.
She ate the pizza hungrily → She devoured the pizza
She closed to the door loudly → She slammed the door
She begged him earnestly → She beseeched him
Pay particular attention to your use of adverbs in dialogue. Your reader will fatigue quickly if each he/she said is followed by heartily, sadly, angrily, etc.
- Avoid using vague, inactive, or passive verbs
He ran towards the school → He raced towards the school
Edward had been lied to by Thomas → Thomas had lied to Edward
He had been imprisoned by the Greek gods → The Greek gods had imprisoned him
- Avoid using vague nouns
The house was big → The house was the size of a mansion
She drove an expensive car → She drove a Jaguar
Her hair was blond → Her hair was the color of corn
- Avoid using look/feel
When you use these words, you immediately remind the reader that this is a story and they are looking from the outside in. When you eliminate these words, the reader feels more connected to your story
She looked at the forest in front of her → There was a forest in front of her
She gazed at the restaurant across the street → There was a restaurant across the street
She felt tired → Her limbs ached and her eyelids were heavy
She felt hungry → Her stomach growled
- Avoid using too many adjectives
It was a warm, sunny day with a baby blue sky and tiny clouds floating slowly through the pleasant air → It was a warm day. The sun was out and the sky was blue
The smell wafting from her was sweet and delicious. Her curly, long, full, red hair hung across her delicate, pale, shoulder. → A flowery smell wafted from her. Her red mane hung across her porcelain shoulder.
To summarize, when writing your description employ strong verbs and nouns, avoid excessive use of adjectives and adverbs, as well as phrases like she saw/she felt.