The Creative Spark—How to Improve Your Description Writing

The Creative Spark—How to Improve Your Description Writing

You can have a lot of fun with descriptions.  Bounce a light off a muscle.  Glisten the lips and eyes with white sparkling light.  Open a door to the scent of polished oak.

You can do all this and more with your descriptions.  And if you want to write with flare, descriptions add flavor.  Here’s four tips on how to boost your knack for description writing:

Description writing tip #1: Embrace the king of senses: the sense of smell.

In fiction-writing and in life, “of all the senses, smell has the strongest psychological effect” (3%).

In fiction writing, according to author Rayne Hall, “a single sentence about smells can reveal more about a place than several paragraphs of visual descriptions.  This is useful if you aim to keep your descriptions short.  For example, the hero enters a home for old people.  The place smelled of boiled cabbage, urine and disinfectant” (3%).

As another example of smells, consider this: “The fridge odor of sour dill weed masked the scent of rotted carrots and baking soda.  His first-time juicing trial failed.”

Or try this, “The thick hallway aroma of cinnamon, maple, and baked apples courted the passerby.”

(Psychology class said smell ranks as the top sense involved in the taste of food.  Our noses matter.)

Also, some people imagine the scents of deceased loved ones, reassuring the survivor that the lost loved one is near.  Reminders of the deceased one can include smells of a particular cologne, a specific kitchen baking scent, or a scent of a unique cigar.

Author Rayne Hall says, “The best place to insert a sentence about smells is immediately after the point-of-view (PoV) character has arrived at a new location.  That’s when humans are most aware of smells, so it feels right if you mention them” (4%).

For instance, consider horror story scents.  I sometimes listen to true scary stories on the Web.  The narrator recites stories about delivering pizzas to shady customers.  Upon entry inside the customers’ homes, the narrator often mentions a ‘smell of death.’

According to Rayne Hall, “thriller and horror readers appreciate being taken to places where odours are as foul as the villain’s deeds, but romance readers want a pleasant experience, so treat them to lovely scents” (4%).

As an example of romantic scents, consider this: “He finished his last push-up, his body a sweet blend of gentle cologne and freshly mowed grass.”  A whiff of him would melt most any heart, I’d say.

Touch up your story with the smells your readers desire.

Description writing tip #2: Noises innovate your story world.

Author Rayne Hall states, “You can insert a sentence about background noises in any part of the scene where it makes sense.  It works especially well in these situations: ….

– To emphasise an exciting moment.

– To further raise the suspense in a suspenseful situation, insert a sentence about background noises the moment the reader holds her breath.

– When the setting is dark (for example, at night) sprinkle sounds throughout the scene” (7%).

Here is my attempt at nighttime sounds:

The alley swallowed the remaining swash of moonlight.  Jacky heard a scraping echo from the far stretch.  A squirrel? Jacky bristled and took a weak-kneed step forward.  “Hello?” The wind seethed.  Jacky stepped up her pace.  A low cackle whispered behind Jacky, and an icy finger scraped her neck.  Her ears screamed into high drums, and she bolted.

Okay, so back alleys at night are so cliché, but did the sounds add to the suspense? You’d be better of writing your scene with a setting of an abandoned mine shaft or of a ship at high tide at midnight.  These settings boost the excitement factor and give the sounds more pizzazz.

Listen to sounds around you.  They give rise to emotions, and emotions can shift their meaning.  Emotions can also cause us to cue into sounds that reflect the way we feel.

For instance, “A faint siren gripped her heart as she waited for his return.  What if he got hit by a car? What if he was drinking? What if he was still angry? She started to sob.  The water heater moaned gratingly in the corner.  She was doing it all wrong.”

Noises make scary scenes erupt with tension.

Description writing tip #3: Look for interesting lights and shadows.

Rayne Hall says, “To convey the atmosphere of a place, insert a sentence about where the light comes from, its colour and quality.  By phrasing this sentence creatively, you can evoke any kind of atmosphere you want: creepy, gritty, romantic, optimistic, depressed, aggressive, gentle, dire” (11%).

I like to sit in the park, close my eyes, and send love to my dearest ones.  While I do this, I focus on the light hitting my closed eyelids.  Once, the sun sparkled upon my inner eyelid a black and red checkerboard that had random red colored squares.  The red squares would shift and shimmer like friendly stars.

Perhaps my most exciting moment with lights occurred when Mom gave me a crystal key chain.  When the light shone mid-afternoon in just the right way, hundreds of little rainbows reflected off the crystal, decorating most every square of my room.  I felt like I did when I was a young girl, and I watched fireflies glowing around a nighttime tree that grew money instead of leaves.  At least, Papa told me the tree grew money.  I believed him.

If you describe lights in a way that adds your emotions, more power to you.  For instance, if you’re writing romance, you could say the light peeked through the open curtain, its syrupy arms stretching sweetly onto the pillow.

But there’s another side to light: shadows.

Rayne Hall says, “Shadows are great, too, especially if you want to create suspense, foreboding or uncertainty.  In outdoors scenes, you can also use them to indicate the time of the day.  Do they flicker, lengthen, shorten, shrink, reach, spread, dance?” (12%).

When writing descriptions, light and shadows will point you in the right direction.

Final words: Don’t go overboard with descriptions.

Rayne Hall suggests, “One sentence is usually enough, but if you aim for a lush descriptive writing style, you can write a whole paragraph” (12%).

Blend your descriptions with the heart of your characters.  The world will curl up to a cup of hot, steamy cocoa, sparkling with froth, ready to enter your imaginary world.

Hall, Rayne.  (2014).  Writing Vivid Settings.  E-book.
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