Creating vivid descriptions in your narration allows your reader to play the “movie” of your story in his or her mind. Consequently, the more powerful and effective your descriptions, the richer and more engaging the reading experience for the person pouring over your words.
When composing or revising your opus, please consider the following elements of description:
Color. Is it a blue sports car? A yellow tooth? An orange awning with white stripes over a whitewashed storefront? Is her blouse fire engine red? Are his pants baby vomit beige?
Size. Go beyond “Is it bigger than a breadbox?” Who the hell knows what a breadbox is, anyway? Did the woman stand six feet, two inches? Was the horse fourteen hands? Was the baker rotund or gaunt? Was the living space a hut? A mansion? A brownstone? A skyscraper? Shape. Was the ruby round? Was the diamond oval? Was the emerald square? Was the oblong-shaped gemstone that I can't think of oblong-shaped? Texture. Was it rough? Bumpy? Velvety? Smooth? Beveled? Sharp? Edgy? Curved? Embossed?
Specificity. Sometimes you can get away with being general. But if the story calls for it, be specific. Don’t just say picture frame. Tell us that it was a white ceramic picture frame in the shape of a cow with randomly placed black spots and a working cowbell.
Simile. Using comparisons will help your reader picture what you’re describing. In a simile, don’t forget your “like” or “as.” Examples: As I hefted the suitcases down the stairs, it felt like two boulders were hanging from my wrists. The man’s face was shaped like Jabba the Hutt’s. Metaphor. Sometimes it takes a more direct comparison for an author to connect with a reader and make the experience more real. Maybe your character has to slog through a mountain of junk mail. Or maybe the trial by jury was a nightmare. Was the old Buick a tank? Was the prison a labyrinth?
Remember, though, that metaphors must be used sparingly because if they get out of hand they can be a real bear (okay, not literally a hand. . .or a bear, for that matter, but you know what I mean). And of course, avoid similes and metaphors that are cliché. If you’ve heard it before, don’t use it.
A final consideration for description is the use of your five senses. Don’t forget about description based on sight, taste, sound, touch, and smell. Sense imagery is a critical component of description. For more on sense imagery, please see my earlier blog post here.
This is in no way an exhaustive list of the considerations regarding your description. But I'm hoping it will help you rev your engines (there's that pesky metaphor thing again!) as you write.
For a little practice, try this:
Your assignment: In a paragraph or two, describe the house pictured above and post your piece in the comment section. Don't be afraid to introduce a character or a conflict. Use your imagination. Don’t worry about being realistic. Go wild. Give me textures and tastes and tonnage. Have fun. Taste the description as it gurgles out of your mouth, oozes down your lips and chin, drips onto the keyboard, and melts onto the page.