Tag Archives: description

Description – what to do and what to avoid

The description is an essential part of your story. It will allow your reader to visualize your scenes and your characters. You can make them smell and feel whatever you want them to. But, most importantly, a good description enriches your novel.

However, sometimes, it can backfire and make your story… boring. Who never read a book where you have pages and pages describing a few objects? They are boring, and no one cares about so many details. An example I like to give is a Portuguese writer, a classic and significant one we all study in high school: Eça de Queiroz. He took around ten pages to describe… a door! Yes, now, you can imagine how happy all Portuguese teenagers are about reading his work, right?

Now, you definitely want to provide your readers with a good description. Yet, you can’t bore them. So, here you have a few essential tips for doing it right.

Include it within your story

Lots of descriptive sentences, separated from the scene you’re telling, will become incredibly dull. Imagine stopping the action and start describing the chair where the character sat down. Is it something you would like to read?

I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t describe the chair. I’m only stating that you should try to mix the description into the action. Describe one or two characteristics while you keep telling what’s happening. For example, your character sits on… give a general characteristic of the chair to describe it. Next, imagine your character looks down. He could notice something, a detail you want your readers to know about.

This way, they will visualize it quickly, and they won’t even notice!

Keep it simple

Many pretentious words, as if it is some kind of decoration for your story, will not work near the readers. They want to visualize what you’re describing, so you don’t want to put an extra intellectual effort into them.

Keep it simple and appeal to their imagination. But remember, simple doesn’t mean generic. Otherwise, your story will look too shallow.


Don’t force a description on paper, only because it’s needed. Don’t start by writing the biggest number possible of beautiful, meaningless words, trying to build something from them. First, imagine the local where your scene is taking place. Visualize it in your head without criticism. Then try to put it on paper, the best you can!


Reading appeals to your imagination and experiences. Your readers will visualize your scenes according to their experience. Therefore, it is useless to describe an object meticulously, beyond extremely boring.

Provide your readers some clues on how things and people look like between the action. Let them use their imagination and finding out how a character, an object, or a place looks like at their own pace.


Show, don’t tell!

“Show, don’t tell.” This is a particularly common advice from any writing teacher, but what does it mean exactly?

Showing something, like a feeling or a trait of the character’s personality through an action, instead of just describing them, is much more interesting and vivid for the reader, who will more easily feel as he or she is inside the story, watching what’s happening or taking place, instead of merely reading about it. That said, it is usually preferable to say that the character’s heart is exploding rather than just say that he’s afraid of something.

For your readers, this will provides them the possibility of imagining every single thing, as if it was standing, or happening, right there in front of them, creating empathy with your characters and making your reader feel all sort of things while reading your story.

However, it’s important that your choices make sense and are understandable for the readers. Extremely erratic behavior, for instance, must make sense in the story, otherwise, the readers will feel confused and easily grow tired.

So, we should never tell?

Not exactly. When you’re writing something, you always have a goal. The importance of a scene, what you want the readers to feel, imagine, or know… these are all things you need to keep in mind and take into consideration.

Sometimes, you just want to give a quick bit of detail about the character, for example, his profession. If this isn’t the most relevant, or if it is but you don’t want the reader to realize that just yet, then just merely tell. There’s no need to be very descriptive or imagine a huge or insanely intricate scene regarding such minor, passing, information.

Showing is however very important and you should choose it when your goal is making the readers feel something. Also, it’s a good way to get their attention or catch them off guard. If you’re doing it right, it will get them to focus on the details you specifically want them to pay attention to.