Below, is my post from Savvy Authors from their “craft” series.
Trained as a journalist and a grant writer, I have over the last three years assumed a quasi-methodical way of addressing description in my fictional writing. As a mode of discourse, description does not come naturally to me. My stories play in my head as I write, and it would be easy for me to ignore the fact that my reader does not see what I do. Of course, it is my responsibility to assure that he does.
Many writers saturate their pieces with long descriptive passages, while others provide only bare bone details. Finding a balance is the answer. Allowing the reader to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch what the author does is a testimony to the senses. The point is to create an image that closely mirrors an observer’s experience. Description should provide the same information that the reader might get directly if he was involved in the situation.
Objective description, the type one finds in technical or scientific descriptive writing, is unbiased and purposeful. In it, one does not convey an emotional response. Subjective description, on the other hand, is personal, but imprecise. Writing subjectively intrudes on the reader’s feelings. Description enlivens the narration. The writer becomes the means by which the reader experiences the situation. He assumes several roles:
• As the reader’s eyes, the writer must thoroughly describe what he sees. The relationship of items to one another. The light. The shadows. The distance. The texture. All of it must be described.
• As the reader’s ears, the writer must tend to the sounds. Loudness. Staccato. Rhythmic pattern.
• As the reader’s other senses, the writer must assure that he describes every detail. Feelings. Touch. Taste. Smell. Kinesthetic-Tactile experiences.
• As the reader’s conscious, the writer will enforce the mood he wishes to convey. Each detail layers the tone created. A mystery writer describing a deserted building will choose different details from that of an architectural slant. Choose the details, which reinforce the mood.
Yet, for description not to drown the narration, the writer must first keep the intended audience ever present in his mind. What must one absolutely know about the subject or the place? What may one omit? Each descriptive passage should convey one dominant impression. Details must be carefully selected. Do not create tediousness by including every discernible detail.
A consistent point of view aids in the piece’s organization. Where is the writer when he describes the scene? The reader must be aware of where the writer places himself spatially. Order of location – presenting the details in a manner, which reflects their location in the scene – clarifies the nature of the details. Good description depends on the writer’s ability to convey his observations. Begin by describing the whole scene briefly and then focus on one specific part.
Remember to write unforgettable description, one must use vivid, reminiscent details. Use concrete sensory images and figurative language. Effective description conveys the experience exactly as one planned it. Use specific details, which are associated with actual items, and concrete language, which is coupled with the senses. Do not forget to cut the “deadwood,” especially vague words, such as handsome, tall, soft, etc., which offer multiple meanings/impressions. Also avoid the fancy (florid, ostentatious, embellished, lavish, etc.) choices. Use words that pin down the exact meaning. For example, using puissance instead of manliness serves no purpose if the reader must consult a dictionary to understand the passage. Impressionistic details are those, which an observer would see first? What would the observer see second? Third? And so forth? Present the details in the order in which someone would notice them.
As description acquaints the reader with the physical nature of things, certain standards are observed:
• Use “definition” when describing the unfamiliar.
• Use division/analysis, separating a whole, singular subject into its elements – slicing it into parts. This helps the reader follow the detailed description.
• Whether the previous two steps are necessary depends upon the familiarity the writer’s audience has with the subject.
• Use concrete words to describe material, color, weights, sizes, distance, etc.
• Limit the number of details to fit the purpose.
• Observe contiguity in moving from part to part.
• Use words that indicate relative postion. (i.e, to indicate space relationships, use words such as above, adjoining, abutting, alongside, below, beneath, beside, inside, left, outside, north, over, right, etc.; to indicate likeness/continuation, use words such as again, also, as…so, in the same way, likewise, similarly, thus, etc.)
• End with a brief description of the movements, behaviors, or habits of animate things.
• Include uses for inanimate things.
• Follow a thematic pattern by dividing the scene into mental categories, and regardless of their actual relationship to one another in space, describe elements that support one theme and then another theme, etc.
Overall, good description gives concrete details in a strategic sequence, which creates the piece’s mood/tone. The reader should have a strong sense of the whole scene, but should also be able to invoke specific details effortlessly.
About the Author
Regina Jeffers is the author of several Jane Austen adaptations including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation,Vampire Darcy’s Desire, The Phantom of Pemberley and Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion and the upcoming Christmas at Pemberley. In addition, Publisher’s Weekly called her Regency romance series about the Realm a “knockout.” The first book, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, is currently available. Jeffers considers herself a Janeite and spends her free time with the Jane Austen Society of North America and AustenAuthors.com. A teacher for nearly 40 years in the public school systems of three different states, Jeffers is a Time Warner Star Teacher Award winner, a Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, a Columbus Educator Award winner, and a guest panelist for the Smithsonian. She’s served on various national educational committees and is often sought out as a media literacy consultant. Visit her at her website http://www.rjeffers.com for information on releases, excerpts, book signings, etc.
The Phantom of Pemberley
A Pride and Prejudice Murder Mystery
By Regina Jeffers
HAPPILY MARRIED for over a year and more in love than ever, Darcy and Elizabeth can’t imagine any thing interrupting their bliss-filled days. Then an intense snowstorm strands a group of travelers at Pemberley, and terrifying accidents and mysterious deaths begin to plague the manor. Everyone seems convinced that it is the work of a phantom—a Shadow Man who is haunting the Darcy family’s grand estate. Darcy and Elizabeth believe the truth is much more menacing and that someone is trying to murder them. But Pemberley is filled with family guests as well as the unexpected travelers—any one of whom could be the culprit—so unraveling the mystery of the murderer’s identity forces the newlyweds to trust each other’s strengths and work together.
Written in the style of the era and including Austen’s romantic playfulness and sardonic humor, this suspense-packed sequel to Pride and Prejudice recasts Darcy and Elizabeth as a husband-and-wife detective team who must solve the mystery at Pemberley and catch the murderer—before it’s too late.
The Scandal of Lady Eleanor
A Regency Romance
By Regina Jeffers
A sweep-the-reader-away story of romance, adventure, and intrigue set in the Jane Austen era.
A master at capturing the elegance, grandeur, and literary style of the Regency era, Regina Jeffers has developed a loyal following with her many popular Jane Austen spin-off novels. In The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, Jeffers offers a completely original Regency romance featuring highly engaging characters and exciting—even shocking—plot twists. James Kerrington, a future Earl and a key member of the British government’s secret unit, the Realm, never expected to find love again after the loss of his beloved wife. Kerrington’s world shifts on its axis when Eleanor Fowler stumbles into his arms. Eleanor, however, is hiding a deep secret: she had hoped the death of her father, the Duke William Fowler, would give her family a chance at redemption from the dark past, but when Sir Louis Levering proves her father’s debauchery, Eleanor is thrown into a web of immorality and blackmail. Kerrington and his friends must free Eleanor from Levering’s diabolical hold.
A festive holiday novel in which personal rivalries are resolved, generosity rediscovered and family bonds renewed
It’s Christmastime at Pemberley and the Darcys and Bennets have gathered to celebrate. With such a mix of eclectic characters under one roof, bitter feuds, old jealousies, and intimate secrets come to the surface. Stubborn Lady Catherine seeks forgiveness, shallow Caroline Bingley finds love, and immature Kitty pursues a vicar. Forced into playing hostess, Georgiana tries desperately to manage the chaos while wishing Darcy and Elizabeth would return from their trip. Enroute home, Darcy and Elizabeth are waylaid by a blizzard that forces them to take shelter in a nearby inn. Elizabeth is tormented that they will spend Christmas away from their families, but when a young couple arrives at the inn in need of a place for the night, Elizabeth’s concern turns to the pregnant girl. As Elizabeth and Darcy comfort and soothe her through a long and painful labor, they’re reminded of the love, family spirit, and generosity that lie at the heart of Christmas.