Thursday, September 5, 2013


Description is one of the most important aspects of writing fiction.  It conveys plot, setting, and character, while also adding flavor.  Poor description ruins prose.  It is of utmost importance that you get it right, and right for your particular market.

The amount of description in a story should vary based upon the story's length.  Flash fiction has sharp bursts of description with a "rule of thumb" "two sentence per subject" max.  Short stories have a little more leniency, but not much.  Once you hit novel length, large swathes of text tend to be description.  The largest difference is pacing.  Slow books have little dialogue and tons of description; thrillers favor plot over character and setting development, leading to lots of dialogue and more active description.

Every sentence should serve more than one purpose.  It may develop a character and flesh out the setting, set the mood and inch the plot forward, do all four, or something else entirely.  A single paragraph of extraneous text can throw many stories out of alignment.  Don't let that happen.

What you want to do with your description is up to you, but at least be consistent.  If you want to use a lot of description to play with voice in the first scene, you should continue doing so unless the voice changes.  Doing so will help your pacing as well.  If you want an intentional change in pace, be careful in how you do so.

A thought-provoking sentence of description will beat a page of drawn-out bloat any day.  Be sharp, not lofty, at least 99% of the time.  Do description right and you are a massive step toward greatness.  Fail in it and so will your prose.  No pressure.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I've been paying attention to how authors utilize description a lot lately. It is certainly an important element of any story.

  2. This is very true. I wish more people understood this. Description is important, but it needs to be done right, especially for the target audience. For example, I don't know what the rules for the market Jane Austen was publishing to were like at the time, but reading Emma last year was an awful slog of an experience. On the other hand, I'm currently reading 'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy, and the description is so unique and un-cliched that it makes me hate putting the book down for reasons other than just wanting to know what happens next. Nice post :)