Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Brief Piece on Double-Dipping Description

I've written posts before about my philosophy for description in stories, but it's been quite a while, and I can't recall how much ground I have covered.  My use of description is counter to that of many works of modernism.  Rather than taking up long paragraphs detailing the appearance of the setting and characters and giving sensory details to accompany those, I try to make my descriptions as short, tight, and potent as possible.  I frequently "double-dip" with my sentences.

Henry's chestnut hair matched the parlor wallpaper, aluminum tracery included.

This sentence came to me while I was thinking on this subject a few minutes ago.  It's not my favorite sentence, and I don't believe I'll be using it in a story, but I think it should work well to illustrate my concept of "double-dipping."

Without any other context, this sentence tells us several things about the story in which it hypothetically resides.  First, there is a character named Henry.  This character has chestnut hair, though that probably isn't integral to the story (and I often omit such details).  This scene takes place in a parlor, and that parlor has chestnut wallpaper with aluminum tracery.  Perhaps the wallpaper even mimics the wave of Henry's hair or the lack thereof in its pattern.  That's up to a reader's imagination.  What is important here, though some readers may miss it, is that his hair is graying.  Henry could be anywhere from forty to seventy-five with such a description, but he is "aging" in any case.  First sentences will always give a lot of information to a reader, yet this sentence gives more than the typical sentence you will find, I think.  I don't "double-dip" (that is, describe character and setting at the same time) with every sentence of description that I write, but I do use this tool frequently.


  1. How come you won't be using the sentence? I like it. Also yes I completely know what you mean now, double dipping is such a useful idea.

    Little Moon Elephant

    1. I've already written a story set in a parlor somewhat-recently. But maybe I'll change what room it's in or something. I could use it for my Fiction Writing class, maybe. Thanks.