"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Good Descriptions

by Sue Anne Hodge

Being a very visual person, good description is something I cherish in the different books I read. If the author can make me see the scene fully in my mind, I'm hooked. Description sounds simple but it's tricky to get right. Too little leaves the reader floundering, too much buries him or her in details. Good description lets the reader see the scene ... great description pulls the reader right smack into the action. One of the first short stories I read from Stephen King still sticks in my mind: "The guy's name was Snodgrass ... he had a tight little potbelly encased in a good suit that was getting a little shiny in the seat. He was a salesman and he kept his display bag close to him, like a pet dog that had settled down to sleep." Can you picture that man, a little down on his luck, passing time until his next appointment? I can see the color and texture of the guy's suit, see the worn soles of his dusty shoes, feel the weight along with every detail of that display case nestled next to those shoes.

Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's. So how does a writer go about succeeding at getting into the reader's head and letting said reader experience the story? There are articles, books, workshops and more that can help, but the best way I've found is to read, read, read, then write, write, and write some more. I have a folder titled Unblocking Passages. Whenever I read an inspiring passage, sentence, or word, I enter it along with the name of the book and author into that folder. Before sticky notes, my favorite books had folded corners. The more folds the better the book. I rely on my Unblocking Passages to act like jumper cables for sluggish creative juices, or, at the very least, give me a shove to keep me going along my novel's path.

The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary to get one's point across. Some of my favorite description comes from the hardboiled-detective fiction of the forties and fifties: "I lit a cigarette that tasted like a plumber's handkerchief." (Raymond Chandler.)


  1. Nice post! :D This is good advice! Thank you!

    1. Good post, Sue Ann. I agree, good description is a very narrow road. A misstep in one direction or the other can ruin what otherwise might have been an interesting story. I've encountered writers that got so carried away with flowery description I found myself skipping pages trying to get back to the story.

    2. Karen Finnigan.netMay 19, 2012 at 9:48 AM

      I enjoyed your post. Good reminders for us, and the examples you used are priceless.

  2. Thanks for the post. Great advice!

  3. Reading that first description of character made me think of another character description in a nutshell: Senior Tumas was a middle-aged, frog-faced man who perspired copiously. (Sidney Sheldon) I can just see him and the character Stephan King described.

    Reading your advice on description and those great examples made me want to sit down and write, but alas, I have to go to work.

    Thank you for interesting post.

  4. This is a great post, Sue Ann! The excert from Stephen King shows that a little bit of discription can go a long way.

    Sherry R.

  5. I think this is a great blog post. Thanks!Mary Ann Cherry