Hello, Write Owls! Welcome to Day 16 of Storytelling 101. Today we’re talking about descriptions and imagery.
Descriptions are an important part of your story. You have to describe settings, characters, and actions, among other things. We’ve all read books that describe too many things—I’m looking at you, Tolkien—or too few things. Finding balance is key.
Stephen King says you should pick and choose what to describe to attain this balance. Anything you describe will begin in your imagination and end in the reader’s, so it’s up to you to decide how much you want to leave up to the reader. King says a few well-chosen details can stand for everything else.
When describing things, it’s best to use the five senses, or imagery. You don’t want to rely entirely on sight. Descriptions pop when you include multiple senses. They aren’t all applicable to everything you describe—there are lots of things taste shouldn’t be used for—but you should use what you can. I think this is most important for describing settings and characters. You can see, hear, smell, and touch most settings, just like you can see, hear, smell, and touch most people. You can certainly taste people, too, but that should be reserved for specific types of scenes. One of my favorite types of descriptions are smells—which is interesting because I lost most of my sense of smell years ago. Scents trigger memories more than anything else, so they can be powerful descriptors.
In addition to imagery, you can use metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech. You should avoid using clichés (King). Come up with original ways to compare and describe things in your story. This is a great way to let your character’s voice shine through (See my previous lesson on voice here). If you’re new to writing, here are some examples of figures of speech:
Metaphors are comparisons, e.g. She was a train wreck. This metaphor compares “she” to a train wreck.
Similes are comparisons using “like” or “as”, e.g. They ran past, thundering like a herd of elephants. This simile compares “they” to a herd of elephants.
These are two of the most common forms of figurative language you will see in writing.
These are the basics of descriptions and imagery. If you have any questions about these topics, please leave them in the comments; and I’ll try to answer them either as a reply or in my Q&A on Saturday.
Feel free to answer these in the comments if you want to chime in!
1) Which of the five senses is your favorite to describe/see described?
2) What’s one of your favorite metaphors or similes?
King, Stephen. On Writing. Scribner, 2000.