Amber Skye Forbes

Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes

The Madness of Descriptions

Let’s describe this, shall we?

Descriptions can be annoying. I know with contemporary novels, you don’t have to describe as much because, heck, we can all imagine our own school in place of the school the MC is going to. We can all imagine our own house, or apartment, or whatever that the MC lives at. Things like that don’t really need describing because an immediate picture can pop un place for us.

But what about when you come across a situation that needs describing, especially in fantasy situations? Sometimes describe can be daunting because it has the potential to turn into a list. The castle was gray, windowless, with vines crawling along the bricks, turrets, a moat, ect… You get the point. It can become boring, and then suddenly the reader no longer cares what this castle looks like because it sounds like every other castle in existence.

So how can you go about creating flourishing descriptions that bring your castle to life? Make the description part of the action or make the description part of the tone. I am taking this description piece from my blog post on my writing samples:

“And we’re here,” the driver announces, coming upon an enormous manor that rests on a cliff overlooking rapids.

I shrank against the seat, intimidated by the sheer size of the structure. I’ve never seen a building so enormous in my life. Then again, I’ve never traveled far from Belhame.

From where we are I am able to make out enormous gargoyles on the blackened shingles of the roof that look like they want to come alive, swoop down, and dig their stony teeth into my flesh. There’s a rusty bell on a bell tower behind a peaked roof, one that looks like a signal for funeral services. Thick vines choke the manor, and they cover so much of the building I wonder if the inhabitants inside are able to breathe.

The most frightening décor of Gallows Hill are the stained-glass windows. I have no idea if they are supposed to serve as a warning or not, but they contain pictures of shadowy creatures holding crosses as if to ward me off.

I tug my father’s sleeve. “I don’t want to be here.”

See what I do to describe the manor? I don’t simply say this: There are blackened shingles with enormous gargoyles, a rusty bell on top, thick vines crawling along the rocks, and scary stained-glass windows. That’s very dull. You want to make whatever it is you’re describing as alive as the characters viewing this thing. So I set the description with the tone.

My MC Alice arrives very mistrustful because the governor who wanted her dead in the first place recommended she be sent to this safe house. She thinks she’s coming here to die, so everything she views is going to have a somber tone to it. As human beings, we view our world based on how we’re feeling. When I was depressed, the sun shouldn’t have been shining outside because sunny for me was anything but. So whatever mood your character is in should be used to help describe something. That is how you can bring your object to life.

If Alice were in a happier mood, she would find the architecture fascinating. She might say something like this: While the gargoyles are frightening, their snarling faces look wizened, as if they harbor all the knowledge of the witches who have come in before me and survived their tragic ordeals. This sets up a more optimistic tone for Alice.

So you can use descriptions to reflect your characters’ moods. But mostly, bring that description to life! Make me want to imagine the castle as you described it instead of letting me imagine my own.

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4 comments on “The Madness of Descriptions

  1. Charles Yallowitz
    May 2, 2013

    Great advice. I typically start introducing a new area with a paragraph to set the stage and atmosphere, but you’re right that describing as you go long helps keep the reader interested.

  2. LindaGHill
    May 2, 2013

    Excellent post! You’ve given me something to think about… and to put into practice 😀

  3. Jack Woe
    May 4, 2013

    Hi,

    It’s also possible to create great descriptions from the point of view of effects and inanimate objects. The objective here is to create an image in the mind of the reader which impresses an emotion. What that emotion is can and will depend on the reader, but there are tools to steer it.

    It depends on the circumstances whether it’s better or worse than character-driven descriptions. The actors below are “sun rays”, “smell”, “yellow bones”, “sound” (passive voice, which can be changed), “a hole” and “a small pebble.” I never use “there is/was” when I can help it.

    Here goes (unedited) :

    The sun rays coming down the hole in the ceiling illuminated the dust particles that filled the tomb. The faint smell of rotting vegetation rose from the dirt-covered floor. Yellow bones lay around, here and there. The only sound was an echo of water drops falling into the cavern below.

    A hole in the floor opened to an unknown deep. A small pebble fell from the ceiling and and onto the edge, loosening part of the floor which fell into the depths below.

    • amberskyef
      May 4, 2013

      Ah! So true! It’s great scene setting as well. Thank you so much for contributing to this discussion!

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