As a writer, I’m always learning. We need to be, as writers and artists, always learning and trying new things.
Or, in some cases, you need to go back and learn how to do something sort of basic. Like writing descriptions.
I used to be really bad at writing descriptions, both of characters and of action scenes. Quite frankly, my description of the scenes needed some work too.
For a long time, I just avoided it as much as I could. But I realized that I couldn’t do that forever, and I needed to get these descriptions down if I wanted my books to get better. So here’s what I’ve been doing to improve my descriptions.
Here’s the freewriting practice I’ve been using to help my descriptions. I find a picture on google of either a place, building or person. Then, I describe them for ten minutes.
I might also sit somewhere public, and ‘sketch’ a stranger. This is a really fun thing for me to do, actually. I feel quite artistic.
I do this over and over, until describing things is almost automatic. Until I find my mind describing things without even thinking about it. That’s where I want to be so that when I’m describing something that only exists in my mind, I’m ready.
Eye color probably doesn’t matter
When I was first writing Broken Patterns, I sent a few chapters to a review site. It was the first few with Devon, in a chapter that didn’t end up making it into the book. He and the other young noblemen were practicing archery. I described them down the line with nothing more than their hair and eye color. It was kind of like in Sailor Moon, where all of the girls have the exact same shape and facial structure, with nothing to tell them apart but their outfits and hair.
Needless to say, I was politely informed that this was a dumb way to describe someone. And I mean, really, aside from your significant other and your children, do you really know anyone’s eye color? I know some characters eye colors, but that’s only if it’s a big point. I sure as hell know that Harry Potter’s eyes are green, like his mothers. But that’s about it.
What’s more interesting are the details that a character doesn’t share with a large number of the population. Visible scars, tattoos. Things that you notice first when you look at a person.
Reading action scenes more thoroughly
I have to confess, I don’t care for action scenes. I usually skip them in books and let my mind wander during them in movies.
Gee, I wonder why I had so much trouble writing them!
Over the last year or two, I’ve made a point of seeking out books that have more descriptive fight scenes, to see how other artists do things. To get a feel for what works, and pinpoint what kinds are the reason I skip scenes like that to start with.
In doing that, I’ve started developing an ear for such things. So I can tell better what’s working when I write it, and what’s not.
Researching actual medical responses to injuries
Recently my Pinterest board should be titled, “I’m not planning a mass murder, I’m a writer!” because it’s been full of shot and stab wound info. Also, there are detailed graphs explaining what happens to a body when it falls from a high distance, what certain poisons can do to a person and how long snake venoms take to kill someone.
I don’t want to write a fight scene or death scene only to find out that it’s totally unrealistic. That defeats the whole purpose. I want to write good scenes that are honest, not pretty scenes that don’t make sense.
This is where research even if you’re writing pure fiction comes in. Unless you’re writing totally non-humanoid characters, you need to understand a little bit about what our bodies realistically go through during a crisis. You’ll be better able to describe them if you, you know, know what you’re talking about.
The longer you write something, the more often you write a certain kind of scene, the better you’re going to be at it. That’s just all there is to it. So long as I hated writing descriptions, and therefore avoided them, my descriptions didn’t get any better. When I decided that I needed to get better at them, and started putting actual effort into them, they got better. Go figure.
My descriptions have always been the weakest part of my writing. I’m thankful that I’m finally seeing some progress in it. If it’s a problem with you, I hope that these suggestions help you as well.
What do you do to improve your descriptions? Let us know in the comments below.