The goal of good writing is to “Show, don’t tell.”
This blog post is written by Kali Luckhee. Last spring Pownal Street Press was lucky to have Kali intern with us. She has a BA (Honours) in English Literature from Ryerson/Toronto Metropolitan University and has just completed a Publishing: Books, Magazines, and Electronic graduate certificate. She’s taken many writing courses during her undergrad and certificate, and love to share tips to improve your writing.
Let’s talk about improving your description skills in writing. Creating vivid descriptions can make the reading experience more memorable. These are called the Golden Details.
Show your readers the picture, by using all their senses. Adding sounds, smells, and feel makes the details even more concrete for the reader, and these moments can stay in a reader’s mind— long after they’ve put down the book.
Today’s exercise: Take a minute to observe the people and objects around you. Think about how you can describe someone’s headphones, their hair, a dog, or the subway map. It can be anything. Then write a description for those items. What are their characteristics? What aspects of the items interest you? Practice describing them using the five senses.
When I was trying to create more vivid pictures in my short stories, I practiced this everyday on the subway, on the way to school. This practice made my stories come alive when I could give my characters and even objects descriptions that invoked more than one sense. You never need to use all five, three is always a good rule, it’s enough to provide a clear image without overwhelming the reader.
Once you’ve honed your descriptive writing skills, use them intentionality. Does your description move the story along? Does it provide information? You decide.
This kind of practice can take a sentence like this:
The woman across from me was wearing a scarf. This doesn’t tell us anything about the woman besides that it’s cold outside.
The woman across from me was wearing a silk forest green scarf carefully wrapped around her neck. This description gives us more information about the woman. The colour allows us to visualize it. The fabric description allows us to feel the scarf. The way it is wrapped tells us about the effort the woman puts into her appearance. And ultimately, this description gives us more information about the woman herself and the setting.
We all have descriptive moments and memories that stick out so clearly to us. Practice describing these moments— when something is crystal clear to you— will make you a better writer, and help you draw the reader into your world
Take a few minutes today and try it out.