Description is what writers use to colour in the basic elements of a story. It gives the reader a mental picture which they can carry that with them as the tale unfolds. Adding an
emotional element grabs the reader more forcefully and pulls them into the story.
Most stories contain one or more of these: A person, place, artifact or object.
Without being too flowery, try to make your descriptions vivid and if possible emotionally charged to a greater or lesser degree. Make an impression in the mind of your reader so that they can easily keep the person, place or object in memory as they follow the story along.
What do I mean by ’emotionally charged’? I mean entice the reader by introducing an emotional element that will go beyond their intellect and into their heart. For instance:
“Glenda’s soft brown hair fell down her tall slim back like the waves of the sea over which she gazed. Her eyes, like the horizon, were distant and held a deep sorrow that belied her youth and fragile beauty.”
So here we have tried to build into the physical description an idea of where this young girl is on her emotional journey at this point in time. Hopefully we will also have secured the readers’ interest so that they are longing to know why she is so sad.
For a novel
For a novel, the description of Glenda could be filled out much more, and perhaps movement brought in to indicate again her state of mind, such as nervously twisting a corner of a scarf or handkerchief, but for a short story the above would probably suffice.
Descriptions will normally enter the narrative when a new character or place is first introduced. So this is the golden opportunity for the writer to overlay an emotional layer to indicate what that person or place holds in store for the making of the story.
At other times descriptive elements can mirror what is going on either physically or in the characters mind. For instance:
“By the time the train pulled into the small station of Deersford Halt my nerves were on edge. The sky to the west was bright, but clouds were gathering overhead and a cold wind began tugging at my coat.”
This tells the reader that unpleasant times are ahead but there is hope on the horizon.
Even inanimate objects can be suffused with emotional overtones that set the scene for what follows. Here’s an example:
“The room contained nothing but a broken chair. The black oak of it’s high back was roughly carved in the form of a twisted and misshapen thistle. The arms were thick, straight and uncompromisingly severe giving no promise of comfort to the sitter. But most disturbing was the seat which had been split in two as if by the crashing blow of a heavy object wielded with a terrible anger.”
If this description came at the start of a story or chapter it prepares the ground for whatever dark secrets are to be revealed later.
Of course, happier emotions can also be used. Joy, love, affection can all be built into your descriptions. It is simply that the darker emotions tend to grip the reader most.
Try creating a few scenarios yourself based on the suggestions above and see what a difference it can make to the life of your story.
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