Friday, May 15, 2009

Zeroing in on Description

Where am I today? Tallinn, Estonia.

Two authors spoke during the writer's workshop, the one which I have chosen to highlight is the previously mentioned Elizabeth C. Bunce, author of A Curse Dark as Gold. And with her permission, I relate the following:

Elizabeth gave five points of what description should be.

First, it should be powerful, with the use of concrete nouns, vivid verbs, and only occasional adjectives. The stronger and more specific word, the better.

(And one of my favorite quotes, "Sometimes blue is just blue.")

Description should be precise. Use specific examples and not generalities.

Description should be selective. Give just enough detail, and let the reader fill in the rest.

It should be almost invisible. Integrate the description into the narrative. Avoid using description for only description's sake, as this halts action.

And finally, description should be hard-working. It supports the emotional content and mood of the piece.

And if you have read A Curse Dark as Gold, you will see the perfect example of all of this. Really, you hardly know you are reading as you are reading. You see and feel.


  1. Sometimes I have trouble using specifics. Great advice Jessie!

    Are you really in Estonia?

  2. Well said! I loved the "sometimes blue is just blue" and the idea that it should be integrated and invisible. I just had to read a book for my book group, and she took several paragraphs to describe each scene, person, etc. It was exhausting trying to picture all that exactly how the author described it, especially since the descriptions sometimes had some bearing on the story - but you never knew which little details you could forget because they weren't important! Another thing: every time you're pausing to describe something, the action in the book pauses, too.