Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writing effective descriptions

One of the best ways to describe a setting is to use as many senses as you can--and if you can do more than one in a single sentence, that would be even better.

Just like hooks, there shouldn't be too much description.  There should be just the right amount--a crappy answer, I know, but let me show you how.  Besides, your setting is only there to give a sense of place for your character.  Readers want to know what happens in the story.  They don't want three pages describing a certain restaurant or the lobby of the White House.  They want to know about what the characters are doing (Okay, Anne Rice can get by with writing pages upon pages of elegant prose, describing her settings in glowing details, but she's a master storyteller and has strong characters so what else do you want me to say).

I'm going to give you an example.  At my full-time job (I can't tell you where because it's against the company's policy) we have quite a spacious breakroom.  I'm going to describe various aspects of it, then I'll pick out the best pieces to go in my story, using as many of the senses as I can.

Here we go:

Quiet murmur of chatter

A pop bottle clunking down the pop machine chute

The ripe stink of burnt popcorn

Whirl of the frappuccino machine, bubbling as it nears the top of the glass, creating a frothy wonder

Smooth, cool tables and chairs with flat, warm cushions

Clear sky, giving the illusion of warmth despite the sub-zero temperatures

Salivating smells of chocolate, vanilla, and cream from the Starbucks-like kiosk

Faint beeping of a cash register

Thunderous sounds from the floor below, possibly construction

Clunking of pop cans being set onto the tables

Slamming of the microwave doors, followed closely by the beeping alerts of yet another nuked meal

Cheap wire napkin holders with glass salt and pepper shakers, the latter with dull stainless steel tops hopefully screwed on tightly enough to prevent an overloading of spices.

Modern cash register with the customer's order displayed on one side and the clerk's Facebook page on the other.

Office personnel wearing slacks and nice shirts while the warehouse patrons don blue jeans and T-shirts--two worlds colliding with one another.

People reading more Kindles and ebook readers nowadays then physical books

Numerous people checking their Facebook statuses on their SmartPhones

Perky clerk with blond hair, a chatty demeanor, and a silver stud in her nose

A large flat-screen TV on the kiosk, displaying the latest specials and current menu

**These are just a list of quick observations.  Not necessarily the best descriptions, but I can tweak those when it comes to writing the story.  Stay turned tomorrow where I'll bring these descriptions together.**

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