Nothing draws me into a book like a great description. I want to feel what the character feels, taste what they taste, hear what they hear, see what they see, and smell what they smell. That is what truly immerses me and makes me feel like I’m experiencing the story. That is what keeps me coming back to an author for more. Here’s a sample of description that engages multiple senses:
“The floors had been dusted with flavored sugar. Specks of it still sparkled in the corners, traces left when our hosts brushed it up before opening the doors to us. Brunt sugar, vanilla cream–both scents hung in the air and I tasted them when I licked my lips.” ~from The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell.
How divinely executed is that? Here’s another example of multi-sensory description:
“Neala clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle a cry when her ankle touched Dubh’s side. The pain was so intense that her vision went dark and she leaned forward onto Dubh’s neck. The smell of horse sweat brought her a small measure of comfort, it also helped that he was warm. She suddenly realized she was freezing.” ~from To Ride A Puca by Heather McCorkle.
But it’s important to remember that good description isn’t just lines and lines of the five senses. It is carefully crafted and balanced so as not to overwhelm the reader, done in a way that flows naturally with the story. Even description has to be integral to the plot line; it has to mean something, serve some kind of purpose. Dialogue and action should be woven into the description, almost like a dance that is carefully balanced.
Some of The Greats write description seamlessly into their novels. A few of my favorites that accomplish this with stunning results are Saundra Mitchell, Eldon Thompson, and Leah Cypess. At times their writing is so smooth and fluid it almost feels lyrical.
For help on fantastic description you need to look no further than the sidebar of this blog and The Emotion Thesaurus. It truly is the bible for writers who wish to take their description to the next level. Because, really, description is all about making your readers feel something.
~Heather McCorkle is the author of the YA urban fantasy novels, The Secret of Spruce Knoll, Channeler’s Choice, the novella connected to the series Born Of Fire (which is now free on Smashwords), and the acclaimed historical fantasy about the last of the druids in ancient Ireland, To Ride A Puca.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.