Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Descriptions are Fun to Write?

As a paranormal romance writer, vivid descriptions are a must. All writers have to describe their world to a certain extent so that the readers are grounded in it. But paranormal romance requires figuring out all the rules and details that make that world unique. 

For example, I have a new dragon shifter series coming out in September (Fire's Edge... more info coming next month!). I've spent countless hours digging into what makes that world tick in a unique way that sets the right tone for my stories and lends to the conflict for my characters. 

I'll be honest... This is a love it/hate it thing for me. A writer can easily get bogged down in the details until they stop writing and are only making notes. They can also put so much description of their world in the book that they lose the reader. At the same time, it's easy to go too light and the reader either can't picture it or doesn't understand what's going on.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share some of the tricks I use when writing and self-editing to help me with the descriptions....

When writing, you want to make sure you get the descriptions in there in the first place. Many writers don't set a scene or characters have no clothes (I do this all the time). You also want to get the description right. By right, I mean, they convey good information and build your world, but at the same time don't drag down the pacing of your book or are appropriate for your genre. Here are some things to look at when writing/editing.

Your Character's Lens (Deep POV)
Ask yourself if the description is coming from your POV character's lens. If you walked into a new room or met someone new, what you notice will differ from what someone else would notice. Why? Because you have different interests, history, backgrounds, preconceptions, goals, etc. Or if the description is about the character (clothing, personality, physical characteristics), make sure it matches who your character is.

Are your descriptions generic, or do they reveal something about your character?

How is what you are describing affected by the context? For example, would a character's frame of mind impact how they see something? What about the plot? What about the genre?

Look & Feel - Add Emotion
Don't just describe how something appears. Get the emotional impact in there. What does the character feel about that description. Does it resonate? Impact their emotions? Help or hinder?

5 Senses
You want to incorporate more than sight into your descriptions. Use all 5 senses (sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell).

Some editors say to incorporate all 5 senses into every page. I find that overkill (and often impossible, unless he/she is a snake shifter tasting the air every 30 seconds). My rule of thumb is a sense per page and all 5 senses per scene or chapter.

If you really want to go crazy, check out the other "senses". Many scientists have classified additional senses to the traditional 5. Not all agree on the lists or classifications yet, but check out the ones they do agree on most. Try incorporating these in!

  • Temperature – Hold/Cold
  • Balance
  • Pain
  • Sense of where your limbs and body parts are
  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Time

Telling vs. Showing
The key with descriptions is to help the reader experience that thing--the setting, meeting another character, going through an experience, etc.

Description Length
Look at the length of your description. Is it too short? Not conveying enough information? Is it too long and pacing is suffering? Do you REALLY need all those details right at that moment? Consider what/who it is you are describing and why? Does the description impact the plot or character?

Spread It Out/Break It Up
Spread out descriptions. Whether you are describing characters, settings, the character observing a scene in action, the actual action, etc., it helps to break it up. Don't just dump it all in one long paragraph. Try to sprinkle the descriptions throughout.

What About You?
Fellow PNR authors, I'd LOVE to hear your tricks and tips. What is your process when it comes to descriptions and building your world? Readers, what do you prefer to see in descriptions?


Maureen said...

Great post and some awesome tips! I tend to write a lot of dialogue and then have to go back and add in description.

Diane Burton said...

Maureen, you & I could be twins. My first draft looks a lot like a script--dialogue and stage directions. Abigail, your tips are great. We tend to forget about smell, temperature, and time. I really don't like reading a lot of descriptions. Sorry, but I skim those. Dribbling them in is so much better. Your suggestion about seeing a place/meeting a person through the lens of the character makes a lot of sense. I don't "see" the big picture. I zero in on something or someone. Now that you've mention that, I'll try to use that idea more. Thanks for such a great post. I hope you had fun at RWA conference and will share some of what you learned.

sorchiadubois said...

This is a great checklist of things to consider as you revise. Keeping the description in the character's head can stave off those long blocks of text. Building character and moving the plot are the two most important parts of description, I think. Some readers don't have patience for much more than a line or two. I admit, I used to skip over those descriptive bits, but now I enjoy them.