A Few Words on Good Description

Heather McCorkle’s here today (whoop! whoop!) to talk about the importance of good description…

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. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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9 Responses to A Few Words on Good Description

  1. Just stumbled on this post and fell in love with the examples Heather provided. I love it when an author punctuates her points with such eloquent examples of the advice in action. Thanks! 🙂

  2. I love that your examples cover more than just a location. Most people associate descriptions with the setting, but authors have to describe EVERYTHING–people, social structures, feelings, relationships. And the rules you’ve laid down here apply to them all. Thanks, Heather!

  3. Heather says:

    Laura, that’s excellent! Exactly what good description should do. 🙂

    Traci, it can be a tough balance. The best advice I can give is to find authors who do it well and learn from them.

    Natalie, you’re very welcome! A trick I use is to keep a post it note next to my computer that lists the senses. 😉

    Angela, a window into the character, yes, exactly!

    Diana, well said! Unfortunately, it is a habit of new writers to throw in those adverbs and adjectives instead of digging deeper. I do my best to delete all of those and find a stronger way to describe.

    Laura P, thanks hon!

  4. Great post. Description is so much more than just describing. 🙂 Love your example!

  5. diana nadin says:

    I think one of the masters of description is Salman Rushdie. I’m currently reading The Enchantress of Florence which uses incredibly sumptuous language. But here at The Writers Bureau we find that some new writers have a tendency to use too many adjectives and adverbs – a recipe for ‘puple prose’. It’s all about writing something that appeals to all the senses but learning the knack of cutting out unnecessary adjectives and replacing uninspiring adverbs with more appropriate verbs,

  6. Description is a huge pull for the reader–it anchors them in the setting and can offer a window into the POV character’s emotional state. Thanks Heather!


  7. Thanks so much for sharing Heather. I have to admit that I don’t enjoy writing description. But you make it sound easy.

  8. Great discussion. I always worry about the balance of description whether I get too little or too much in there.

  9. Laura Howard says:

    I loved those choices for description. I always love when a scene is done so well that is causes a visceral response-‘ I actually licked my lips while reading the scene from Springsweet. And wrinkled my nose at the scent of horse sweat, hahaha.

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