Showing Your Story World

Today I’m back with more about using better descriptions in your writing, especially the sense of sight. I’ll remind you of the description I posted here that I thought used sight really well (remembering that Horizon is a horse). It’s from Aurelia by Anne Osterlund:

The gray mare stepped with ease onto a narrow dirt trail, and Horizon followed in her footsteps through the sunny stand of white birch, across a speckled meadow of gold and green, and over a sloping hill. At the foot of the hill, a slender creek burbled its way over shiny stones.

Only 2 sentences — 52 words. But, wow, what a picture she gives us. We know that:

  • The riders are on a narrow dirt trail.
  • It’s a sunny day.
  • They ride through a patch of trees (where it’s shady) and across a meadow (where they’re back in the sunshine).
  • They cross over a small hill and see a creek bubbling over and around stones — stones that are shiny from the water splashing along.

What a clear picture of where the characters are and what they’re doing! How do you do that yourself? By putting yourself into your own story world and seeing it so clearly in your own mind that you can help your reader see it, too.

Easy? No. But worth it? Yes!

Start by deciding where your characters are — the time of day, the place, what kinds of things are around them. Think about what’s happening in this part of your story and how the time, place, and objects can affect what’s happening. For example, let’s say your character is outside at night. You might ask yourself questions like:

  • Is it pitch-black dark? Is there a full moon? Are clouds blowing across the sky and making the moon appear and reappear? Are shadows distinct  or fuzzy-edged?
  • What time of year is it? Are the tree limbs bare, or are they overloaded with leaves and flowers?
  • What objects are around your character? Is it bright enough for your character to see some colors or other details? If so, what little bits can he see? Or does everything look like a black blob against the night?

Now, don’t worry, you don’t have to include all your ideas or descriptions in your story. That would be a case of information overload, and your reader would get so bogged down by the details that they might miss the point of the story. Once you get a good picture of the scene in your mind, pick the best parts — the parts that will help your reader see things most clearly — and stick with those. Your reader will start to see the story world just like you do, which is just where you want him to be. Because once he’s in your story world, he’ll keep reading.

2 responses

  1. […] more on including the senses in your writing, check out my posts on sight, smell, and making sense of […]

  2. […] (And speaking of seeing, you can also check out my post on using sight to write better descriptions.) Can’t you smell all the things in the market? Does the thought of that grilled cheese […]

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