On Description

From PJ Parrish at Kill Zone Blog: How Much Description Does Your Book Need?

And of course you know I personally love description. So does PJ Parrish, it turns out, and the centerpiece of this post is a wonderful set of examples of descriptions of characters. Which is actually not the kind of description on which I personally focus; I was thinking of scenes and landscape more than characters. But these are wonderful examples.

I think my favorite is:

[His] jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down–from high flat temples–in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.

However, the one I actually recognized right off was the final example.

Parrish then goes on:

I come down on the pro side of description. As I said, it is one of the potent tools in your craft box. When done well, it creates atmosphere and mood, sets a scene, and gives your reader a context to the world you are asking them to enter. It also helps your readers emotionally bond with your characters, having them see, feel, hear and smell the story.

However, the basic take-home advice here is: Describe, but only when it makes a difference. … Like any skill, it’s something you have to practice, play with, and fine tune. It also is part of your style. Your way of describing things should be singular to you.Be aware, when you the writer enter a scene, that you do it with sensory logic. Always consider the sequence of the senses. Smell is often the first thing you notice. Sound might be the primary thing triggered.  Sight is rarely the first sense to connect.

Followed by a good example of a descriptive passage.

Good post! Meaning I agree with basically everything Parrish says here.

For paragraph-by-paragraph sensual description, I nominate Aud trilogy by Nicola Griffith: The Blue Place, Stay, and Always.

An April night in Atlanta between thunderstorms: dark and warm and wet, sidewalks shiny with rain and slick with torn leaves and fallen azaliea blossoms. Nearly midnight. I had been walking for over an hour, covering four or five miles. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t sleepy.

Or later

Imagine a blood orange, torn open, and a highly polished mahogany desk. Smear one over the other and add a wash of light blue: dawn over Ireland; rich, unearthly colours that reached past my eyes and stole part of my soul. People were not designed to see such things. I felt the cellular hum of four hundred people as they dreamed or worried or rehearsed speeches in their head in this steel and aluminium shell thirty-three thousand feet over the sea, hurtling through air that is just that, thin air, and knew we were remote from the world, separate, aloof, supported by nothing but speed and physical laws I could recite but have never really believed.

These books are not available in ebook form. I think Nicola has the rights back. I wish she would delegate if she doesn’t have time. If she asked for a volunteer to take a file and format it for KDP, I bet she’d get any number of hands going up.

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3 thoughts on “On Description”

  1. One of the best point of view descriptions I ever read went as follows:

    I mean, this is someone whose name is synonymous with pure wickedness—with fearsome destruction and utter disregard for any that stand in the way of his dark goals. And yes, I’m sure all those things are true, and he’s the very definition of wickedness, but…
    …he has the gall to act like he’s not! Accuse him of his obvious crimes and he’ll just pull a faux-innocent look (as if a creature with such a black soul could even pretend to be blameless!) and ask you if he’s really as bad as all that! It’s shameless!
    And he doesn’t even have the decency to look the way he should. I don’t really know what I imagined when I first heard his name spoken in hushed tones as “the detested Xellos” during lessons… but I can tell you one thing, it didn’t look like… that.
    He should’ve looked… well, like a monster! A lot of unnecessary eyes and feelers and claws and fangs dripping with venom and such! That would at least in some way be… honest. Xellos’s appearance is just… just a lie.
    Seriously! That constant goofy smiling is just a gigantic offense to the thousands of innocents that he’s killed! I mean, it’s creepy, but not in the way it’s supposed to be. And who, outside the circus, goes around with purple hair anyway?

    “Hello,” the beast said in this… peppy, incredibly grating voice.
    I let out a scandalized gasp. Not only was Miss Lina allowing a monster to sit with our group, but it was that monster. And, well, I really shouldn’t have gotten ahead of myself about him before, because I hate to repeat myself but… but he just didn’t look the way he should’ve! It was almost… is disappointing even the right word to use in this circumstance? He should’ve had shadowy familiars or coarse, wolf-like fur, or… or a noxious black smoke surrounding him or something! Instead he just had this silly purple hair and this even sillier smile. This was a creature that slaughtered thousands of my race with barely a thought… and he looked more like a twit than a monster!
    He wore a… well, it was almost a black cloak. A black cloak would’ve been appropriately villainous, but this wasn’t even quite there. It wasn’t a starless-night black, it was more of… a dark grey—the type of color that people wear when they don’t want the dirt to show. He wore white gloves—like the kind that magicians wear. He had a staff on the ground next to him with a rounded gem in the middle of it—kind of like the one I wear on my robe except for the fact that while mine is a peaceful shade of blue, his was blood red. Smaller stones of the same color were on the clasp of his cloak. Perhaps the color of those gems was the only appropriate thing about his appearance.
    And that voice—good GOD. The less said there, the better.

    A somewhat scatterbrained narrator spends a lot of time being outraged at what a great demon does and doesn’t look like, and outlining his persona; before providing a short description of his physical appearance and how it clashes with her own. She also gives us a bit of aural information. Mostly though, we get that she wears a robe and a blue gem.

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