How To Write Descriptively (Part One)

I was 11 years old when I started writing fiction. Back then I was amazingly descriptive. I could write beautiful prose without even trying.

And then I went to journalism school and learned how to remove all details and only report facts.

When that happened, my fiction started to become bare-bones too. Void of details and heavy on dialogue. (Maybe you can relate?)

So I really had to train myself to be able to “think like a fiction writer” again.

Here’s what I do to practice writing more descriptively:

Learn to Pay Attention

A lot of times, we run through life and we don’t really pay attention to the things that are happening around us—the details of what goes on.

Really start to pay attention, and every time you go somewhere, ask yourself: what’s the environment like? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What details are you noticing?

And obviously taking notes is an important part of this—having a writer’s notebook or using your phone if you have a smartphone—to record the details.

Write down anything you see that seems interesting or might be good to recall later, or that you might want to tie into a story at some point.

A good exercise for paying attention to details (and finding interesting things to write about) is going to a place where it’s very crowded and people-watching.

Go somewhere crowded and sit down, taking notice of what you see, and what you hear, and writing down things that are interesting, or that stand out to you.

Maybe you’re sitting at a table—what does the table look like? What’s the tabletop like? What kind of legs does it have? What color are they? How does it feel—does it have a smooth top or does it have a rough top?

Just learning to really dig into the details of life, because that’s how you’re going to be more descriptive when you’re actually sitting down to write something.

If you’re writing about a table, for example, you could recall a table that you sat at, and be able to describe it completely because you have that memory.

Listen For Details

Listening is a great way to get details and ideas for what you can write about. A lot of times people will say things in conversation in a way that makes you think, “I could totally picture one of my characters saying that.”

Or maybe you hear someone describe something in a way that makes you think, “That’s the perfect description. Anyone would understand what was being talked about if they heard it described that way.”

So listening is a really important part of paying attention and being able to write descriptively.

Detailing the Day: An Exercise

One way to dig into details is to scavenge past events that have happened in your life and look for details. You’re going to choose a significant day in your life–something that stands out to you.

Maybe it’s your sixteenth birthday, or your wedding day, or something that has just happened. Choose a significant day that you remember well enough to write the details about.

Set a timer for five minutes, then make a list of all the details you can recall for the significant day that you have chosen.

When the five minutes are up, review your list. See if anything else comes to you. If it does, add it.

Now hang onto this list.

In Part Two of this exercise, you’ll use these details to create a descriptive passage about your significant day.

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Image courtesy of FutUndBeidl

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