“He was tall with blond hair. He seemed like a nice guy, but perhaps he wasn’t.”
No one enjoys reading dull, hackneyed descriptions, but how can we make them more vibrant? I’ve been giving this some thought while I’ve been on the FutureLearn course on Writing Fiction. I thought I’d share a few of the tips I’ve picked up.
So, what makes for an original, vibrant description? I’ve noticed three techniques great authors seem to use:
- Comparisons with other things which bear no relation – opposite or surprising things;
- Intangible things made tangible.
1) Comparisons with other things which bear no relation.
- The dungeon was seductive.
- The snake, its skin as black as a freshly shined car tyre…
- Clouds, fat like raisins…
- Smug, defiant dandelions.
- His car slumped to a stop. Out of petrol, out of sorts.
- A small boy with busy knees.
- The sun tiptoed into my room and whispered in my ear.
- Her tea kettle had long ago relinquished any claim to a pleasant & melodious whistle. It’s slow loss of dignity has finally degraded to the point where it is hissing and spitting at her like an enraged and cornered tomcat.
3) Intangible things made tangible.
The last item on the list got me wondering: what, exactly, are intangible things? Here’s what I came up with:
- Products of the mind: thoughts, memories, dreams.
- Personal emotions, feelings – anger, pain, joy, love, pride, pleasure, despair, disappointment, hope.
- Inter-personal emotions/qualities: loyalty, integrity, honesty, courage, kindness, compassion, trust, deceit.
- Sounds or peace/silence – music, shouts, speech, words.
- Time: childhood, year, hour, season, life, century, month, week.
- Concepts & ideas: life, death, reality, truth, justice, faith, friendship, patriotism, knowledge, liberty, wisdom, personality, deception (emotions made into nouns).
- Her thoughts gradually unspooled, collecting at her feet in a tangled mess of consciousness.
- His words landed like punches, hard and fast.
- the tapestry of a life being unpicked, thread by thread.
- Giant boulders of noise roll around the stadium.
- The warm air became chewy.
- Her memories were melting, dripping away each day.
- Old hurts slipped through her mind like amber rosary beads through her fingertips.
Here’s my effort at improving the sentence at the beginning of this post:
He was a deception. The worm-like, affable skin shielded a core writhing with scorpions, rattle snakes and spite.