I'm not really a detail person. I like the overall picture, a hint of two about the scenery and characters and then let's dive into the DRAMA. Love drama on TV and in books. Not so much in real life. Anyway, so how do you give the reader a sense of the surroundings and what the characters look like without putting them to sleep?
Simple. If you can't write a story without description (which I don't recommend), then make description part of the story!
Just like turning setting into a character, you can transform description into part of the character's experience. What you want to avoid is writing a laundry list of descriptors such as
She entered the room. Glittering sconces lined the walls and chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The foyer was large and crowded with people. An orchestra played. Intricately carved crown molding lined the ceiling above Dutch floral paintings.
(Yawn.... Oh, sorry, I drifted off.)
Here are some excerpts from my upcoming release, Veil of Pearls.
Light from hundreds of glittering sconces and chandeliers blinded her. She blinked as they greeted the host and hostess, both of whom barely acknowledged her. . . .The foyer was ten times the size of the Doctor’s and abuzz with chattering people who all shot their gazes her way to see what strange oddity Mr. Rutledge had brought to the party. Orchestra music drifted atop beaded and jeweled coiffures from a room to their left. A butler took Mr. Rutledge's cape and hat and her shawl before she could protest. She didn’t plan on staying that long. Mr. Rutledge patted her hand and led her into the massive ball room. The first thing Adalia noticed was how large the room was, the second, the intricately carved crown molding lining the ceiling above Dutch floral paintings and crystalline chandeliers—such beauty and lavishness she’d never seen. The third thing she noticed was that once again everyone turned to stare at her. In fact, the chattering faded to clandestine whispers as ladies leaned together behind fans.
The best way to write description is:
Show how your character reacts to his or her surroundings
Interject action among the description
Allow the setting to interact with the description
- The lights are bright. They blind her and she blinks.
- Instead of just saying there were a lot of people, show how your character sees them and how they sound. Abuzz with chattering people.
- Instead of just saying that the character heard music, combine the music with an added description of the people. Orchestra music drifted atop beaded and jeweled coiffures
- Notice there's action incorporated into the description. A butler takes their cape and hat. Her escort leads her into the room.
- And finally we have the description of the crown molding and paintings..followed by her reaction to them, such beauty and lavishness she'd never seen. You can almost feel her awe and wonder!
And the same thing applies to descriptions of people
Mr. Rutledge seemed quite the don juan. He was handsome, wore a simple linen shirt, waistcoat and trousers tucked within high boots. He had wheat-colored hair, green eyes, and dark whiskers on his chin.
By the way the ladies lining the marketplace gaped at him, Adalia assumed Mr. Rutledge was quite the don juan. Perhaps he wished to add another feather to his cap with the new lady in town. No doubt most servant girls would swoon over any attention paid them by this handsome, wealthy rake. For he was handsome, indeed. Even more handsome than she remembered. His face no longer held that look of abject boredom so often found on the spawn of the tediously affluent. In fact, he seemed much more alive. Maybe his common attire—a simple linen shirt, waistcoat, and trousers tucked within high boots—brought his usual arrogance down to a manageable level. In any case, it couldn’t hurt to enjoy the way his wheat-colored hair flung about him in wild abandon, the sprinkle of dark whiskers on his chin, and even the spark of mischief in his stark green eyes. Though she’d spurned him, he held himself with authority as he awaited her reply.
- By showing how others react to Mr. Rutledge, the reader gets a good feeling of his appearance. the ladies lining the marketplace gaped at him and swoon over any attention paid them by this handsome, wealthy rake
- This statement not only gives us a hint of his expression, but gives us great insight into our character's opinion of the wealthy. His face no longer held that look of abject boredom so often found on the spawn of the tediously affluent.
- Again, our character is reacting to the sight of Mr. Rutledge when she says brought his usual arrogance down to a manageable level. The reader sees that his current attire is not as fancy as what he normally wears. Plus we realize she thinks he is arrogant.
- We have the wind interacting with Mr. Rutledge's face: wheat-colored hair flung about him in wild abandon,
- And instead of just saying he had green eyes, we see them through our character's eyes.... she sees the spark of mischief.
So, don't bore your readers! Jump into your character's skin and show us how he or she reacts to what they see. It takes a little more work but the result is worth it!
Happy Writing and Reading!