5 Ways To Make Description Work In Your Novel

5 Ways To Make Description Work In Your Novel


Writers Write is a comprehensive resource for writers. In this post, we give you five ways to make description work in your novel.

Description is a way to engage the reader’s imagination. It is a tapestry created with words—it can summon vivid images of place and character, strong emotion and become a thread to move the story forward.

5 Ways To Make Description Work In Your Novel

Here are some examples of description at work in a story.

  1. Description in character. When describing a character, look for the little details that give insight into their background, state of mind and lifestyle. For example: In the witness box, Mrs Bennecke shredded a tissue between thick fingers. Her bra didn’t fit properly under her blouse. Her broad face was ruddy from lack of care in the sun—she still lived on the family farm in Reitz—and an implacable grief.
  2. Description in action. In a thriller, you don’t want to slow down to shoehorn in description. Find ways to intensify the tension and the character’s dilemma in the description. For example: Holding her wound, Marli ran towards the hold door, punched in the override code with blood-slick fingers. As it hissed open, she hurled herself from the stranded shuttle.
  3. Description in viewpoint. A description without viewpoint can be as flat as copy in a brochure. When the description is shown through a character’s thoughts, it becomes more authentic. For example: She imagined Richard at his rooms—face pale with fatigue, but a smile creasing his intelligent eyes. Because he loved working with children, he’d take late appointments. Often they got into arguments about children of their own. He was a paediatrician but didn’t want any kids of his own.
  4. Description in emotion. You can name an emotion in a novel, but is better if you illustrate it through description. It creates a picture that shorthands the emotion and makes it more stark for the reader. For example: Nicky slept on the floor of the living room, next to the tiny sleeping bundle on the couch. Claire could breathe thanks to the tracheotomy. But she was only three-years old. That meant care around the clock. Buster, the Labrador, snored at Nicky’s socked feet.
  5. Description in pacing. Description can really ‘pop’ when you shake up your sentence structure and punctuation. By creating a rhythm in a paragraph, it supports and strengthens the description. For example: The night before the TV makeover, Gina’s mind ran riot. Prada purses and pumps. Gucci in every flavour. Stylists, photographers, PR reps—all focused on her. Everything just for … her!

Let the reader see it, feel it, live it!

When you write with the senses engaged, with clarity and focus, you will create a visual and engaging language that will hold the reader’s imagination from the first page to the last.

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

by Anthony Ehlers

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. The Plot Maker
  2. Setting the Scene
  3. Adding Suspense to Stories

This article has 1 comment

  1. Marie J. S. Phillips

    Good advice-tho this sentence could do without the passive verbs that can be redundant and add awkwardness to sentences. ” Her broad face was ruddy from lack of care in the sun—she still lived on the family farm in Reitz—and an implacable grief.”
    How about;
    “Her broad face, ruddy from sun exposure and life on the family farm in Reitz, reddened further from implacable grief.”

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