How to Write Description Your Readers Won’t Skim Over

5 Jun

Why does it matter?

C’mon, let’s be honest here. How often do you skip over description? You’re reading along, you see it coming… a huge block of boring text. You skim it or jump to the next interesting looking part.

But there are reasons you should want readers to notice your description.

Description can:

  • build your setting and your world
  • add to the aesthetics of your story
  • add to your character development (yes, you read that right)

Here’s the beautiful thing about it – description can do all that at once. Here’s how:

What Great Description Isn’t

Well-crafted description isn’t long. It isn’t cliché. Because it isn’t long or cliché, it isn’t boring. Even if you’ve written the most incredible paragraph of all time, if it drags on for a page, your readers aren’t going to take the time to plow through it.

Keep it short. Keep it simple. And be original.

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when describing your world. It’s your world, isn’t it? Describe it in a way that’s unique to you. Your readers will lap it up.

What Great Description Is

Here’s the real secret. Are you paying attention?

The best description is told from a character’s perspective.

This can be done no matter what point of view you’re writing from. Even in third person, you should still be focusing from the perspective of one character and writing with some of their voice.

When your character walks into a room, what do they see? More importantly, how do they see things?

Two characters could see the same vase. One might think of how perfect it would be for flowers. Another would think of how great it would be to store their stamp collection.

You’re describing the same vase, but you’re also giving a hint into character. Your readers aren’t bored, because they are interested in your characters’ habits and thoughts. They’re reading what you want them to read, they’re seeing your world, and they’re interested in it.

Any Wheel of Time fans? Robert Jordan was a master at this. The way an Aiel would describe a river is very different from the way a “wetlander” would describe the same river.

Description can make or break your story. What are some tricks that you use to work it in? What are some examples of character-based description you can think of?



18 Responses to “How to Write Description Your Readers Won’t Skim Over”

  1. Fitz June 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    My favorite wheel of time example is Mat and Perrin. Perrin thinks in blacksmithing analogies and Mat thinks in terms of buying and racing horses.

    • Jessica Flory June 5, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

      Perfect example, Fitz! Wheel of Time is chock full of great stuff like that 🙂

  2. Lara Chase June 5, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    Thanks so much for the tip! I have a terrible time with description, but I’ve never thought of writing from the character’s POV. I’m a huge description skimmer when reading, so I’ve just erred on leaving it out so as not to bore readers. I’m learning, though, that if you don’t put in enough, readers get confused.

    • Jessica Flory June 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

      It’s so true! Description is a tough balance – how much to put in and how much to leave out. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I hope it helps!

  3. Lynn Guelzow June 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Great advice – I thought I was a bad reader because I always skim the descriptions. I just hate how they slow the story down. But if I look at my favorite books – I see lots of description tucked in in small ways that trick me into reading it. Putting in small bites of description – sprinkling in hints of character – is far more interesting than long paragraphs of no action.

    • Jessica Flory June 6, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      It’s so true! Description, if done poorly, puts a halt on the pacing of your story. Character based description is a way to work it in without putting on the brakes.

  4. quirkywritingcorner June 15, 2013 at 4:40 am #

    I’ve read some books with descriptions that made it seem like the author threw it in as an afterthought, and did not truly care about how or what she wrote.
    When I explained things to my patients I tried to do it in ways they would understand, often showing them things to demonstrate my teaching, or drawing pictures; but I seem to have trouble doing it with my characters. I know about the ‘show, don’t tell’, but still find myself in the old rut of telling everything without giving my characters a chance to talk. In my reply to your other article I told you I was going back to make some changes. That’s why–to give my characters a chance to tell their feelings. I don’t feel that I brought those out very well.

    • Jessica Flory June 15, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

      This is perfect! You got it right on. Using character point of view description is a great way to get your characters’ emotions out there – crucial to a story readers really connect with. Adding how your character feels about what they’re seeing will also keep readers interested in your description. Awesome insight!

  5. GK June 26, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    If I wanted to stand up right now I could find the source in my library but I don’t, so I won’t. That doesn’t mean that Chekov didn’t once give basically the same advice in a letter to his brother. He also included excellent examples to illustrate what he meant. Maybe some day I’ll look it up and cite it here, but not likely. Great post!

  6. Pinar Tarhan August 27, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    I love John Grisham. I don’t skip one word, not ever. Because he knows how to make it short, sweet and relevant (at least in his legal thrillers. His non-legal dramas…let’s not get there:) ) I’m a big fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels as well, but sometimes I do skip the road/highway descriptions. It doesn’t matter how original he is – I want to read what happens next to my character and a highway/road/path whatever….is just that. I don’t want to see sentences or paragraphs on that.

    • Jessica Flory August 27, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

      I agree! I need to read more John Grisham. I’ve only read one, but it was great!

      • Pinar Tarhan August 28, 2013 at 9:55 am #

        Which one did you read? I can make some fast recommendations accordingly. : )

  7. Jessica Flory August 28, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Please do! I read The Confession

  8. quirkywritingcorner March 20, 2018 at 2:19 pm #

    Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner.


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