It’s one of my banes. Description of places, people, things in a story that need to be there. I’ve devoured how other people do it, read up on the best/worst for each style of storytelling.

Does it help?

Sometimes. One book I had to read about three times before I realised what he meant. That’s too hard. It should be easy.

It should.

It isn’t.


Because for each type of narrator, Point of View (POV), genre, style, language, etc. the description elements may be an expectation from the reader, or the publisher, and completely different from the writer’s expectation — both of what’s required and how to do it.

I don’t like reading stories with so much description that the story effectively stops. Those are the bits I skim. In my view, as a reader, if I can’t picture these things through the POV character, they have no relevance. If they have relevance to the POV character, they should be voicing that effect.

——————– So, let’s try it. Third person, close POV, scary/tense. And I’ll try to use FOWC — Treacherous (as subtext).

Sharp-bladed grass cut Bendit’s feet as he ran toward the rise near the flat horizon. Haze rose and fell in time to his pounding steps, breaths rasped and burned his throat and lungs. If he didn’t make it out this time, if he was too slow from the fattening process, he’d be their next meal.

The shudder in his body slowed him down. Don’t think of them, don’t see their sucking, oozing mouthpieces, don’t relive the screams of friends and enemies alike. No one deserved to die like that.

He had to warn the world what was here, what was coming for them.

Desert light spun bright colours off the electric fence at the border. On the far side …

No. Just run. That hill, that rise. Run fast enough, get enough impulsion to throw himself over the fence. It wasn’t high, it wasn’t sparking. They didn’t want to kill their food when it ran — although some said fear improved the flavour — but they wouldn’t let any escape.

The front the visitors offered the world leaders was a mask. Everything they did was a mask.

Bendit ran for his life, for the lives of everyone trapped in the underground station, for the lives of the whole world.

It’s only a short piece, but …

What is the picture in your mind of what Bendit looks like? Can you visualise him with only this level of description?

Or do you feel for him, or within him? Do you feel his fear, his desperation?

Which is more important — knowing what he looks like, or feeling what he’s suffering?

35 thoughts on “Description?

  1. Bendit is scarred that he might be eaten. He is athletic, able to run and jump fences, but he is carrying a great load, knowing that his next move is important. I picture his as a tall thin looking guy that is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

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    • Hmmm, so you didn’t see or feel this: too slow from the fattening process.

      In a way, that reinforces my instinct for writing for feel, rather than description. That single bit of his sense of his external description didn’t hit you between the eyes or give you a picture.
      Thanks, Jim. The writer can never know how a reader will ‘experience’ the words as written, and every reader is different, bringing their own perceptions and history to the words.

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  2. I have no idea from what you wrote what Bendit looks like, or even if he is human. But I did feel his fear, his desperation, his plight. It was tangible, and at this stage, that was more important (to me, anyway) than knowing what he looks like.

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  3. I would think at some point he would have been described before this scene. If not all we know is he has been fattened up and is afraid he can’t jump the fence. I would like to know what he looks like before we get to this place.

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      • It isn’t his responsibility. Is the whole story first person? If it is then he’ll either have seen his reflection in something at some point to see what’s staring back at him, or he’s heard “them” or someone else describing him to someone. At this section of the story it should have already been done. Maybe I’m misunderstanding?

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      • No, not misunderstanding, but a POV character can’t look down on himself, or think to himself what he looks like. He won’t describe his ‘thick, luscious locks’ let alone what colour his hair is, unless it’s done in such a way that suits this character thinking about it. Reflections have been done to death and a lot of readers don’t like to see it — unless it’s done in such a way that it’s different to the norm.
        The three main forms of third person are distant, middle, and close (think of a video: widescreen, distant from the character, can’t hear, can’t see the pattern of the clothes or the cut of the jib, let alone the colour of boots or lipstick); mid-shots, can’t hear a person talk low or whisper, but can see the full body (there’s also a closer form of mid: the upper torso shot); and close-up, where we hear the character, see the fingernails, the buttons, smell the deodorant, whether they’ve brushed their teeth (super-close is eye-colour, pores on skin, hear them breathing). So getting a description in close third person is like standing outside the close-up or mid-shot video to describe the person who’s doing the thinking.
        In a lot of what I’ve read and enjoyed, there isn’t a description of the character, but their actions create a picture in my mind; what they do and say shapes how they appear in what I see of them.
        I hope that makes sense. Viewpoint and how to describe the viewpoint character is hard.

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      • Cage, I appreciate your explanation. I’m writing a book now, an expansion of the short story I sent to the contest last year. I haven’t really described my character either, other than the cowlick in his hair that he hasn’t been able to tame since his mom tried and failed to in kindergarten for class pictures.

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  4. I pictured Bendit as a human, slightly chubby, maybe surprised to feel his belly jiggling as he ran. Definitely felt his terror; who wants to be eaten? He’s running through grass, but it’s a desert environment, so tough, sharp grass. Rocks underfoot too, maybe? I like the light on the electric fence. Someone running like that wouldn’t be taking in much scenery.

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  5. I see Bendit as a silhouette. I am caught up in his fear, his panic but mostly I am entering his nightmare. I have become him, living each line of the story. The desperation of surviving screams in my head. You have a gift, you’ve drawn me into your world.

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  6. I think it’s more important to engage the reader emotionally by describing how a character feels rather than giving a long, detailed description of how they look.
    Your story moves very quickly and I do get a sense of Bendit’s fear and desperation. I would like a bit of description of how he looks though – is he human? Old or young? That kind of thing.

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    • Yes, I think there needs to be more than there is, and at least something to indicate he’s human. Description is the hardest craft skill for me — after all, I can see it all so clearly in my head.

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      • Yes I find it hard too. Maybe just add bits in as you go. The bit about the grass cutting his feet is good – that gives a human feel. I think what makes him seem non-human is the fact he’s a food source for someone or something. Maybe describing who is after him a bit might help explain that. Good luck. Writing can be tricky craft sometimes. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Hmmmm, interesting. Of course, no one’s going to cut his hair in a place like that. But that’s made me think of what happened to the people in POW camps — what did they do about personal care? Thanks.

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  7. Description is the bane of my life too. If I, as a person, am experiencing something intense, the /last/ thing I’m doing is worrying about my hair or the colour of my eyes, or whether my butt looks fat in track pants… That’s why seeing the same character from someone else’s pov is so good, because checking other people out is something we all do. Okay, maybe not if we’re running for our lives but…
    And the trope about introducing a character and describing them – height, hair colour, eye colour, distinguishing features – that’s so boring. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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