How to Use Vivid Descriptions to Capture Attention

Do you pay attention to detail?

 

A guest post by N. Strauss from Creative-Writing-Now.com

Have you ever read writing so vivid that you felt as if you were actually experiencing the story first-hand?  Would you like to make your own fiction writing that vivid?  Here are some tips that will help.

Use specific details.

Let’s play a game.  Imagine a room.  Before you read on, take a moment to form a mental picture of this room.

Okay, now what if I tell you that the room is a restaurant kitchen?  Did your mental picture just change?

What if I tell you that the restaurant’s closed for the night, and the kitchen is dark except for the streetlamp shining in the back window.  Did your mental picture just change again?

Using specific details in your writing will guide the reader’s imagination, helping the reader to imagine a scene the way you have imagined it yourself.

But use the right details.

The more details, the better?  Not exactly.  The key is to choose the right ones.

If you describe the contents of every inch of that restaurant kitchen, it will be information overload.  Readers cannot hold an infinite number of details in their mind at the same time.

If you describe every pea in every can of peas in the restaurant pantry, readers will fall asleep.

Which details should you choose?  Look for…

  • Details that differentiate. If you tell me that the man picking the lock on the kitchen door has two eyes, a nose, some hair, and quite a lot of teeth, that is not very informative.  If you tell me that he is tall and has wavy hair, that gives me more information.  But I still might not be able to pick out this man in a police lineup.  If you tell me that he has a long upper lip that gives him a certain resemblance to a camel, this helps me form a picture of the man.  It is a detail that distinguishes this man from other people.
  • Details that suggest a larger picture. If you tell me that the kitchen counter is littered with a mixture of sugar, crumbs, dead ants, and ashes from the pastry chef’s cigar, I understand that this kitchen is not likely to pass a health inspection.  Even if you don’t describe other surfaces in the kitchen, I will naturally imagine them as dirty.

Remember your narrative point of view.

The details you should choose will also depend on the narrative viewpoint you are using in the scene.

By narrative viewpoint, I mean the perspective from which the reader experiences it.  If the scene were in a film, where would the camera be located?  Is the reader observing the scene through a particular character’s eyes — or even from inside that character’s head?

Let’s say you want to write from the point of view of the burglar who is entering the kitchen.  You’d describe details that the burglar would notice, especially details that he would find important.  You might describe the lock that the burglar was picking.  You might describe the butcher knife that the burglar takes from the counter.  You wouldn’t describe the burglar’s face (he can’t see his own face) — unless you are describing the way it is reflected in something; for example, in the blade of the knife.

Now, let’s say you’re describing the same scene from the viewpoint of the burglar’s accomplice, who is waiting for him outside.  What would you have the reader see?  Maybe the light going on in the kitchen window?  Does the accomplice creep up to the window to peer inside?  Fine, then the reader can see the burglar pick up the knife.  However, the reader can’t see the oily fingerprints that the burglar carelessly leaves on the knife handle.  They would be too small and faint to be visible from the window.

Make your descriptions work.

Descriptions are more than decoration that you add to your fiction’s surface.  They are building blocks in your story.

You can use descriptions in many ways; including all of the following:

  • to help a reader imagine the sights, sounds, smells and textures of a scene
  • to focus the reader’s attention on a particular aspect of the scene
  • to communicate background information
  • to express a character’s thoughts and emotions
  • to set a mood
  • to slow down or speed up reading.  For example, you can use a description to slow down the story at a crucial moment in order to increase the tension.

If you choose the right details and use them in the right places, your descriptions can do a lot of work for you, although your reader might be too absorbed in the story to notice.

N. Strauss directs the online creative writing courses program for Creative-Writing-Now.com, an online resource offering writing prompts and education on a variety of creative writing topics.


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