This morning I thought it would be interesting to list all the craft skills I could think of; that doing so might bring more awareness to what I don’t know, and the skills I need to improve on.

As I began writing I realised that it was going to take quite a bit longer than I anticipated, and I have a writing deadline today, so I’ll do it in sections, starting with..

Description

  • Using multiple senses
  • Combining senses
  • The skill of imagining yourself into the scene
  • The skill of being specific – describing small or unique details in a way that ignites the reader’s mind to paint the rest of the scene
  • The skill of describing the world through the character’s eyes – what would they notice?
  • Describing body language
  • Describing things as if they are animate, alive and possessing soul
  • Describing things in a humorous way
  • Describing movement (links to the above – all things move, just some more slowly than others)
  • Bringing splashes of colour in a vivid, specific way

It’s the mental energy and combination of skills that make descriptions so challenging for me. To do it well I have to A) consistently imagine myself into the scene and find the specific details, and B) out of all the many possible things that could be described, knowing which one the character’s attention would be focused on, and how to render it using words that are true to the character’s in the moment experience.

Yes. Description is hard.

Some days, when it isn’t flowing, I’ve spent an hour on just a few sentences. This isn’t really an option if I want to write immersive epic fantasy stories, so I’ve been trying to find a balance between speed and quality. On a first draft, momentum is king. I need to get better at ‘exploding’ words onto the page (as Neil Gaiman talks about in his excellent Masterclass, by the way).

In writing descriptions on a first draft, I feel that using about three quarters of my potential skill is good balance. That way I’m able to keep momentum whilst putting in enough effort that I’m actually practising effectively. Too much and I’ll only write one book every decade, too little and I won’t improve. In the back of mind is often the thought that when it comes too the second draft I might do away with the scene entirely, so it makes no sense to try and make the descriptions as good as I possible can.

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