Welcome to this lesson of David Kummer’s writing course. That’s me, by the way. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, success stories, or just something fun to say, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to talk about anything and everything, especially if that everything has to do with books, basketball, or Chinese food. I am a teenager, after all. So that’s that! Head on down and read what might be the best writing course of your life, but also might be the worst You won’t know until you try!
Whatever you can sense with your senses, you can describe with your descriptions. So do it good.
Hey there! Welcome to Lesson #4, a description of descriptions.
This lesson is a bit different. There won’t be as much information. Instead, I’ll try to give you some food for thought, some examples, and help you see why I believe this way about descriptions.
What am I talking about? Well, I have a bit of a different take on descriptions than most people. Instead of saying, “Get your readers emotions attached” or “Use more words for descriptions than story” I’ll just give you a few pointers.
Types of Sentences
There are three types of sentences (generally) in books.
2- Direction (Story)
3- Dialogue (Talking)
The first one, Descriptions, is our focus for today, but I’ll give you a brief overview of the other pair.
Direction is actions that happen. They’re what you’d put in screenplays, or what you would see happen in movies.
Example: Bill ate a waffle.
This doesn’t describe Bill or the waffle. It just tells you what he does. However, you can mix Direction with Description and it looks like this.
Example: Hairy, sloppy Bill ate the syrupy, soggy, sour waffle (and learned his compass directions in the process.)
In this sentence, Bill both does something and gets described. He eats the waffle, and it tells us about him, even about the waffle. So it’s both.
The other point, Dialogue, is what somebody says. It’s pretty straightforward.
Example: “Dang it,” Bill said. “Too much syrup.”
This is often mixed with Direction. That looks like this.
Example: “Dang it,” Bill said, wiping his chin. “Too much syrup and mustard on this waffle.”
You can even mix all three of these together, and that comes out like this.
Example: “Dang it,” Bill said. His hairy beard was catching all the gooey syrup. He licked his lips. “Too much mustard, but I love it.”
Now that, we’ve covered those, you probably know what Descriptions are. You’re saying what somethings looks like, feels like, tastes like, smells like… Anything that has to do with your senses. You’re describing it.
Now, what do I think about Description?
What can be described?
Like… everything. Your mom. Your house. Your feelings. Your neighbor’s hairy arms. Whatever you can sense with your senses, you can describe with your descriptions. So do it well.
Where can I use Descriptions?
Descriptions are used well to break up dialogue or to set the stage. When I write chapters, I try to start with dialogue or action, but then quickly backtrack and describe stuff. Like this.
Example: The car door slammed shut with a thud, leaving me stranded on the sidewalk.
“Please come back,” I cried.
It was a warm evening, but I felt ice cold. The air smelled like a campfire. It was the perfect night, the romantic night. But my romance was leaving.
“Get away from my car,” he yelled at me from inside the run-down vehicle. “Or… or I’ll crush your toe! Run right over it.”
“You wouldn’t!” I shrieked.
The neighbors were peering out now, interested and nosy. They never knew when to back off. Such a neat, nice little neighborhood and we were the oddballs, the misfits. Amidst rows of perfect, tidy houses and lawns, ours was nasty and hardly ever mowed.
Their sidewalks were perfect and paved. Ours was cracked. This wasn’t even our fault, but it just showed how out-of-place we were. And now it was just me out-of-place. Me alone.
As you can see, I started off with some action to get you interested, some dialogue, and mixed enough description in there for you to picture it.
When you describe things at the beginning, you give your reader a choice: Remember this picture in your head, or let it change.
Most times, readers will choose whatever they like. They’ll picture everything different than the other reader, and that’s great! This is exactly what you want. You know who likes books? Whoever writes them. This is the closest you can get to giving your readers the pen/keyboard. Just let them make up their own setting.
Now, of course, you have to give some details and get them started. If you don’t say anything, then you have talking heads in Nowhere Land. It’s a sucky place. So you have to get them started, but ultimately they want to choose.
You don’t have to do this, of course, it’s just what I recommend and practice myself. In the end, the goal of descriptions is to set the scene. The beauty, the emotions, and the story come through Dialogue and Direction. Descriptions can help, yes, but I’ve never made anyone cry with my Descriptions. You may. I don’t know.
What’s the point then?
Descriptions are best used for yourself. They make the story seem real. They help it play out like a movie in your head. They eliminate “talking heads” that characters get bored with. They make it seem like life.
All I’m saying is that complicated descriptions do more harm than good. Keep it sweet and simple, and you’ll benefit in many ways.
There are always exceptions, of course, and if you have a way or a reason that complicated descriptions are better, please let me know at email@example.com. I’m learning just as much as you, and we’re all always learning.
What about characters?
As I said before, it’s better to just guide the readers. I’ll describe the characters at first, but mostly I try to make these traits reflecting of the personality. In books, how characters look are normally important because they reflect traits. And the readers know this.
For example, what do you think of when I say this?
The hairy man’s beard curled around his chin and neck like a large rodent. His hair was disheveled, and his eyes dark. He sat in an alleyway, dripping with sweat in the summertime heat.
Perhaps you think of a homeless man. Perhaps you think of some crazy old guy. But couldn’t this really just be… a detective undercover? Somebody who lost his razor and is actually a very well-off lawyer? But because I described the man that way, you expect him to be that way.
So, character descriptions are best used to show other character qualities. Show their age, show their maturity, show whether they’re outdoorsy or always stay inside… Stuff like that. There’s any amount of things you can show through descriptions, and most of them are below the surface actually seen.
While most people only describe character’s physical appearance, there are plenty of other things to notice.
From BookDaily.com (http://www.bookdaily.com/authorresource/blog/post/1834164) here’s four other things:
-Mannerisms/Traits: These are the tics or compulsions that a character displays consistently. For example, the character paces when nervous or agitated, chews gum or tobacco, hums to him- or herself, blinks excessively, clicks a pen without realizing it, taps the end of a pencil on the desk all the time, bounces his or her foot…
-Behaviors/attitudes: These are how the character displays his or her feelings. For instance, the character might be belligerent, argumentative, disagreeable, a yes-man, Polly Anna-like, naïve, happy, bland, or teasing.
-Scents (what smells are associated with the character if any): Most memories are related (and often triggered) by scent. Yet, as authors, we tend to forget about the smell-factor. … Even a description of an odor or an aroma can evoke a sense memory and help our readers remember and relate to our characters. So, include references to scents whenever possible. As it is, most people have a particular scent, and those that wear perfumes or aftershaves, or use perfumed dryer sheets, usually have a cloud of odors surrounding them. Or perhaps, your character forgot to bathe, was climbing about in a dumpster, or lives with a herd of cats.
-Sounds (what sounds are associated with this character): Sounds are another overlooked, yet memorable way to help your readers remember and relate to your characters. Perhaps your character whistles, imitates bird calls, makes clicking sounds (of fingernails on a desktop or keyboard, of tongue against the roof of the mouth) or tapping sounds (of shoes or cane or fingers while texting), etc.
As you can see, there are many things to describe and they all show aspects of the character!
Descriptions are important. They’re best used to show some other quality of a character or to set the scene.
However, if you get too strict with your descriptions your readers won’t appreciate it. They want some freedom to imagine and write their own parts of the book, even only in their heads. If you do this right, it will make your readers love the book even more.
Starting next lesson, we’ll take about the Parts of a Book (i.e. plot points) and take a look at the five basic ones. See you then! Stay tuned!