Descriptions in writing

Descriptive writing is important. This is what allows you to communicate the image or the “mental movie” in your head to your reader. For me, it’s a mental movie. Others have told me that it’s a still image that starts to slowly advance frame-by-frame. They have to write out each frame. Granted that is just about the same thing, especially when you consider that moviemaking is at least 24 frames per second with the persistence of vision. For me, I can’t write the frames, I write the movie. Sometimes I have to go back and rewrite things that I’ve skipped over, trying to document the movie.

Whatever works for you, once you get the rough draft down, then don’t forget that it is your wordsmithing that tells a story. Many times, it is the difference between boredom and ‘page-gripping intensity.’ It doesn’t often come with the first or second draft either. A lot of times, it takes a few drafts.

Let’s look at our good buddy Jack. He’s had that rough day at work, and the boss told him, “you know what, Jack? You had a rough day today, what would finding that stuff. Why don’t you take the next couple days off, with pay. Try to recuperate a little.”

So here’s Jack relaxing, or trying to, at home.

Jack sat down in the chair with his drink.

Straight and to the point, right? However, all your mind’s eye sees is Jack sitting with a drink. Up until now, we haven’t seen where Jack lives. All we’ve seen in the earlier posts was where he works. Let’s rewind the tape and start again.

The clock on the wall ticked out the seconds. The only other sounds in the sparse apartment came from the hiss of the beer can popping open and the wheeze of the cheap armchair cushion as Jack flopped down. He stared out the window, through the blinds, to see the occasional car zip by the concrete jungle of his housing unit. It was a little stuffy in the apartment, so he set the sweating beer can down on the side table with a metallic ‘clink’ and got up. Jack fiddled with the old window unit until he convinced it to turn on. A hollow ‘thump’ announced the condenser’s reluctant activation, and cool air blew out.

Jack flopped down again, the cushion wheezing out another indignant breath. He picked up the beer, giving the wet ring on his side table a passing glance, and took a long sip. The television was silent, and he absently listened to the ‘tick tick tick tick’ of the clock, and found his mind inerrantly revisiting the memory of the ripping plastic bag and the red splashes in the back of the garbage truck.

He shuddered, trying to block out the memory. It was bad enough without having to relive it. Jack tipped the can back, and was rewarded with nothing. The can was empty. He grunted with displeasure and crushed the can. It didn’t take long to decide to get up and get another beer from the fridge.

The cushion wheezed out in relief as the refrigerator hummed.

Hmm…. I think Jack is having a bad time right now, and to tell the truth I can’t blame him. As for the description, you could come away with the impression that Jack is scraping by. Either that or he’s really cheap. Either way, this allows you to set up for something else to happen.

I could see either Jack falling asleep after getting drunk and having a nightmare happen, or if he just gets buzzed, maybe somebody knocking on his door.

The beer was halfway drained when a knock came on the door. Jack looked in the general direction, but ignored it. It came again, and Jack grumbled, “I’m coming!” He managed to set the beer down approximately in the wet ring, next to the other two empties. The cushion wheezed as he got up.

Jack stumbled to the door, and fumbled with the lock. The heavy door swung open to reveal Odell standing there with a case of beer in his hands.Jack squinted at the other man.

“Odell? Why ain’t you at work?”

White teeth shone again dark skin as Odell grinned.

“Same reason you ain’t at work, except I’ve seen stuff like that before and you haven’t. I can handle it easier. Can I come in? This beer isn’t going to keep itself cold.”

Jack grunted and stood aside. Odell looked over Jack’s shoulder as he walked in and saw the crumpled cans on the side table, and the one on the floor.

“Jack, looks like you got started a bit early.”


“You got that cheap crap, too. Here.” Odell ripped open the case and fished a bottle out. It was a thick German beer. “You need something better than that to chase away that stuff you saw.”

Jack took the brew and stumbled into the small kitchenette, looking for a bottle opener. Odell took a lighter out of his pocket and popped the top off, then gave it to Jack.

“Go sit down. I’ll look for a bottle opener.”

“OK.” A few moments later, the cushion wheezed again. Odell looked around. There was an ancient refrigerator, a small stove and a hotplate, a fairly new microwave that looked like it could handle a mug of water and a baby’s bowl, and a card table with two metal folding chairs to sit in. Odell shook his head. He found a bottle opener, and took a kitchen chair with him. He sat down, opened a bottle for himself, and looked at Jack.

“Hell of a day, huh, Jack?”


They clinked bottles and drank deep.

I think I’ll leave them to it. I don’t think either one’s going to work tomorrow, either.

Be strong in what you write, and your reader will see everything. If you do it right, and leave just enough blank, then the imagination of the reader might fill in something that you can see too.

I haven’t described Odell much, but I have an image of him in my mind. It would be interesting to see if the reader’s mental image and my mental image jibe. I like Odell, personally, and I think I’ll be writing him in more stuff. Somebody’s got to look after Jack, you know.

There is a balancing act when you use descriptions, though. On one hand you have too little description, which leaves a faint imprint upon your reader. On the other, you have too much, which can bury your reader and be tiresome. This is sometimes called an ‘infodump,’ and is necessary at times, but try to avoid it. On the gripping hand, a good descriptive and vivid story will leave your reader wanting more, when you weave it into all the other parts of a tale.

Happy writing!

-JB Steele

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