Descriptive Writing – Why Less is More

????????????????????????????????????????Today, I shared with you my favourite quote. It always seems the most appropriate when I talk about descriptive writing. Descriptive writing is exactly what Chekhov is impressing upon us with his quote.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekhov


Descriptive writing is showing not telling. Description is the writing tool we use to add texture, colour and dimension to our writing. It is how we make reading a sensory experience for our readers.

Here are a few elements you may want to consider utilizing to help you improve your descriptive writing.

Use all of your senses.

Using senses is an important ingredient of descriptive writing. Using the senses of touch, taste, hearing, seeing and smelling are all equally important in bringing your ancestor’s experience to life on the page. We often tend to only use sight but a good combination gives your reader a much deeper experience.

Do not overuse adjectives.

When describing your ancestor, or a place or thing, remember to show. If you say your Grandfather was sad, show how he embodies sad; don’t tell us he was sad. You want your ancestors to inhabit the emotion.

For example:

Grandfather was sad when he learned of the death of his wife.

Instead consider:

Grandpa sat with his head in his hands, his eyes cast down, careful not to make eye contact. Deep sighs were all he could manage for hours after learning his wife had died.  

 Do not overuse adverbs

The adverb is probably misused more than the adjective.  Overuse of adverbs leads to dull writing. not descriptive writing. Adverbs are lazy.

For instance:

 Grandpa wandered quietly down the laneway, the loss of his wife had devastated him.

Instead consider:

Grandpa wandered down the laneway, his eyes vacant, his arms dangled like broken tree branches, not a hint of energy was evident but for the shuffle of his feet. The loss of his wife had stripped him of all his lustre.

Use unusual similes

A simile is a comparison of two unlike things, typically marked by use of “like,” “as” or “than.”  Note the simile in the example above comparing Grandpa’s arms to dangling tree branches.

Avoid Clichés

Clichés are words or expressions that have been overused. They may have been original at one time but through overuse they have become clichés. Be aware of them and find fresh and original ways to describe your story. Some examples of clichés include dead as a doornail, smart as a whip, sweet as sugar. You get the idea.

 Use original metaphors

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which one thing is spoken of as though it were something else to help bring an image to your reader.  The bed was a rock. The girl was a peach, sweet and delicate.

Be Original

Try to avoid using dull descriptions and find original ways to introduce depth and texture in your descriptions.

If you tell us,

Grandfather wore a brown hat.

What kind of brown, what kind of hat? Perhaps instead:

Grandpa stood a little straighter when he wore his cinnamon brown fedora adorned with a single black feather.

 Don’t Over Do it!

Beginning writers tend to lack confidence in writing description in those early days, but once they gain an understanding for description, they can then go too far and overdo it. Too much detail can completely overtake a story. Description should enhance your characters and their world and as the cliché goes, less is more.