My Writing Process: Description

Description is Key
Description is Key

It’s a new year and whole new crop of virtual writing panels, and I’m going to get back on track doing topics that, I feel, really matter. A big one for me regarding how I do what I do involved description.

Basically most of my core writing habits, good and bad, come from advice I got at a young age. With description, I can trace the origin back to my grade seven home room teacher. He was talking about then-mega popular novelist RL Stine and his Fear Street series of novels. He said that people liked it because it was very visual… That it appealed to all readers because it was so richly described that people could see it. I believe his exact words were: “People can see the head hitting the floor.”

So when it came time for me to put pen to paper, I described everything… And I still do. Later on during my late teens, a great mentor of mine named Elona Malterre mentioned something similar, but said that we should remember to describe with all five of our senses whenever possible.

I think this is how I got labelled a horror/thriller author. When you describe leaves you’re just a writer… When you describe an evisceration, you’re a horror writer. I describe everything. At least, everything I see. However the pictures in my head get to me, they aren’t perfect. But I’m trying to communicate them to you as clearly as I can, so I’m going to use all the tools at my disposal.

That’s kind of what the “A Thousand Words” panels are about. For instance, look at the picture accompanying this post. What do yo think it is? You presumably don’t really know, but how would you describe it? Orange? Octagonal? Would you spend much time on the raised pattern in the centre? If you had to describe this picture to someone who couldn’t see it, what words would you use? Because if you can do that, that’s what writing is. That is the essence of it: taking a picture in your brain and explaining it well enough that the same picture is in someone else’s. Then, just like early animation, you follow it up with another picture and another to make it move.

The picture is actually the Peteo-Can hall at Memorial University, taken during the Lorna Goodison reading I attended. They are the sound proofing pads above the auditorium. Neat though, huh? I’ve never seen ones so thought out and intricately designed.

For describing this it’s easy to JUST use sight, and that’s fine… But you could do more. Do they have a smell? Does the auditorium have a smell? If I could touch them, what would they feel like? Or taste like?

If you’re drafting your manuscript, think these things through. Describe the world around you characters. Make it real, bring me in to that world. If you’re done drafting, re-read the story and ask yourself: have I given enough information that people can see what’s in my head?

Let me know how you do with it. Whether you describe everything or save it for the special bits, I’m sure your story will be great.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

2 thoughts on “My Writing Process: Description”

  1. Thanks for your post. Coincidentally, I’ve been trying to hone my description skills. I’ve been trying to be a little less overt and a bit more subtle, but I can’t help but love a few vivid adjectives and verbs now and then…


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