Day 8 – Using the Sense of Sight to Paint a Picture

The sense of sight is the primary sense that we rely on when writing the description in our ancestor’s story. Our readers also rely heavily on sight to picture what is happening.  The easier we make it for our reader to see some something, the clearer we paint the picture and the easier we make it for them to be more involved in the story.

When it comes to describing we are going to rely heavily on sight, and it is the sense we need to include the most, so the reader gets a solid grasp of the setting.

But too much is not a good thing, and we can lose our reader if we spend too much time describing what we see.

There are several approaches we need to consider when deciding what to describe because something we see. Remember not everything needs to be described.

Ancestor Viewpoint

Let’s remember our post from a few days ago. Everything needs to described the way our viewpoint ancestor would see it. What would our viewpoint ancestor notice? How would they describe it?

Is she an optimist and sees the one point of beauty in an otherwise ugly item?

Is she a pessimist who only see the mess in a room when she walks in?


Size and Colour

When describing things we see we often default to size and colour.  But there is so much more than just size and colour when it comes to describing an item. We also see shapes, textures, patterns, depth, shadows and even optical illusions. What our ancestor sees at first glance might not be what is there once they take a closer look.

If a description feels flat, mundane, predictable, then forego the regular description of size and colour and bring it to life through other visual elements.



I’m sure it won’t come as a surprize, well at least not to the women,  men and women see things differently. Men tend to notice the size of things, how fast something is, body posture, women’s body shapes. Men also have tunnel vision. (That’s nothing new, right women.) These are all some little insights to consider when a male ancestor notices something compared to your female ancestor. Your female ancestor will see facial expression, colours and textures. They’ll also notice things outside of their tasks they are working on.

It doesn’t mean that men won’t notice colours or women won’t see the size. It just won’t be the first thing they will see.


Add Action

Put what your ancestor sees at the moment and add action or the feeling of motion.

For Example;

A large oak desk sat in the corner of the room. I walked over and took a seat.

In the sentence above we stop the action to describe the desk.


I walked over and sat behind the large oak desk in the corner of the room

Now, rather than stopping the action for a line of description, we have incorporated the description as part of the action.

Our description of an item can also help the reader to understand our viewpoint or interpretation of the item.

A large oak desk sat in the corner of the room.

A large oak lurked in the dark corner of the room.

The desk isn’t moving, but we’ve given it more life by adding an interpretation by the viewpoint ancestor of how it’s sitting in that corner. It offers the reader more insight into the ancestor’s feelings about the desk.



How would you describe a bouquet of flowers? Most of us would comment on the soft petals, the colour and fragrance of the bouquet. This is predictable.

If we give the reader exactly what they are expecting than the description feels boring. If we want our writing to stand out, then consider being unpredictable. Consider shaking things up when describing something go with the unpredictable.  Consider finding the ugly in the bouquet of flowers.

So before we describe something our ancestor sees, we should ask how is this thing usually described and see if we can describe it in an opposite or fresh approach.


Focus on the one rather than the many

We, humans aren’t very good at imagining groups of things. We focus on one member of the group at a time. If we want to describe a large group, we should begin by describing one member of that group. Once we know what one member of the group looks like we’ll fill in the blanks about the others.


Give order to the description

When we observe things in life, we tend to start from the top and work our way down.

So if you were describing a person, it would be eyes, shoulders, abs. in a logical progression. Not shoulders, eyes and then abs.

If you noticed something in the distance, we would see something in the middle and then close up. You wouldn’t notice something in the distance, then close up and then go back to the middle. With each detail, narrow the focus, start with general, broad to narrow or narrow to broad.

If your sight descriptions seem off balance in your family history stories and you’re struggling to identify why check the order of your description. The solution might be as simple as rearranging a couple of sentences.

A few pointers to help you use the sense of sight to improve description in your family history stories.


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