How to write descriptions

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5 Tips to Make Your Writing More Descriptive

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Use concrete details to make writing more vivid
Ensure descriptive details aren’t just chrome  
Don’t leave reader in fog with vague descriptions  
Keep freeze-frame in story brief, relevant 
Avoid rear-view mirror descriptions in stories 

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



Six Tips for Creating Your Story Setting

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How to choose a setting for your story 
Use caution when shifting story’s location, time 
Avoid placing ‘used furniture’ in your story 
Use care when naming places in your story 
Avoid anachronisms in stories set in past 
Use caution when employing empathic universe 

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



Narrative structure: One step ahead or two back?

All stories, Pen-622037_640no matter which genre, consists of plot, characters, setting, point of view and theme. How those various elements are weaved together is called narrative structure. This structure marks the way that your story is presented to readers for them to experience.

As you might imagine, there are countless ways to structure a story. Still, those approaches can be broadly grouped into a two basic categories that center on the way the story’s events are presented in terms of time. Generally, stories either are linear or nonlinear.

Linear stories are written in chronological order with no deviation in the time flow. If the first scene occurs from noon to 1:10 pm Tuesday, then the second scene must occur after 1:10 pm Tuesday and not before noon of that day. The third scene must chronologically occur after the second scene, and so on. The direct causality pattern of the events featured is followed. The linear approach by far is the most common story structure.

In contrast, nonlinear stories will break chronological order by shifting between time periods. These shifts usually occur through flashbacks or by utilizing a stream of consciousness approach, in which one’s thoughts, as in real life, are presented as they occur. This means that characters will relive past experiences in the present. Nonlinear stories sometimes are referred to as a disjointed narrative or a disrupted narrative.

Typically, linear stories are the norm because they match the way we experience life. As many excellent writers have pointed out, however, we don’t think in a linear way. Thanks to memories, we can find ourselves “living” in the past as the clock’s second hand steadily clicks forward into the future. Because of this, stories that are character-oriented more commonly utilize a nonlinear structure, as this approach better allows readers to experience life as the character would.

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



How to choose a setting for your story

All too often, Settingnovice writers focus on plot and characters, overlooking setting to their story’s detriment. Simply put, the location of your story matters, as it ought to complement the plot and characters.

When selecting where you will set your story, allow it be more than a backdrop for your tale. You can accomplish this by ensuring your setting:
Offers opportunities for your character to have conflicts – If a character is experiencing a man vs. nature a man vs. himself conflict, then being marooned on an island is a great setting. That location won’t work for a man vs. man or a man vs. society setting, however. But think even deeper than that. Ask yourself where would the conflict and the plot our main character goes through best be expressed? Suppose, for example, that our protagonist, now retired, decides to move back to the place of his childhood and renovate an old residence that nature is quickly reclaiming. A good setting for this would be a forested area that is really far out in the boondocks, the complete opposite of a big, urbane city where he has lived his entire adult life.
Delivers a place where such conflicts naturally could occur – Don’t force a setting to fit the plot. Two ambitious corporate attorneys, for example, wouldn’t work in a small town but instead in a big city downtown high rise. Their environs are the restaurants, offices and penthouses of their corporate clients. If the attorneys chose to live and work in a small town, this would undercut the story’s believability.
Provides plenty of space for lots of action to occur – If your main character needs to grapple with kidnappers inside a building, make it a large skyscraper or a massive warehouse. A seaside village doesn’t allow a lot of space for a sophisticated spy to battle a criminal organization throughout a novel, though it would work fine in a scene.
Feels like real place to readers – A setting obviously can be made up but ought to feel like it actually could exist. That means appealing to the reader’s five senses in your description and then including parallels to something similar readers are familiar with (which is why so many science fiction novels structure spacecraft operations of the future like today’s naval vessels). If using a real place, always do your research so that you don’t include factual errors and so that you can provide evocative details that capture the location’s feel.
Improves the story’s quality via the feeling or tone of the setting – The seedy side of a city at night is perfect for a dark, gritty story. A swamp works well for a horror story. That’s because the emotions the setting evokes matches the story’s tone. If you’re successful at this, you probably will create an interesting and memorable setting.

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



Which story setting to use? Backdrop vs. integral

All stories 895433182_d4d4cb06b0 contain a setting – a time and a place in which the plot occurs – but not all settings are all that important to a story.

Sometimes a story occurs against a generic background, such as a modern city in modern times. This is called a backdrop setting. The location could be either Los Angeles or New York, the year could be now or a couple of years ago. All that’s vital for the reader to know is that the story occurs in a modern city. The cultural and historical events of the setting – who’s president, which war we’re nationally engaged in, the popular songs the characters listen to – generally are not provided because they’re irrelevant.

In contrast, some settings affect the plot, characters and theme of the story. This is an integral setting. The story’s location and/or time period (but not necessarily both) “restrain” the story by placing boundaries on what can occur. For example, a story set in the 1950s requires that female characters act and behave differently than they do now, as the sexual revolution has yet to occur for them. Such restrictions, however, can help writers make statements about the present by guiding the story’s actions and characters. Generally, genre stories – particularly science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction – utilize integral settings. When done well, such settings (like J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth or Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets in the 23rd-24th centuries) can carry a power of their own that fascinates readers.

Which type of setting you use depends on how specific you get with the place and time to make the work. If “corporate office building” is satisfactory without knowing what products or services the company provides, you’ve got a backdrop setting. If the fact that the company sells clothing for hip urbanites is vital to the development of a character or the action – for example, the company strongly encourages its employees to wear its own line of clothing but one worker prefers to don decidedly unhip apparel, setting her apart from the others – then you’re using an integral setting.

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



Keep freeze-frame in story brief, relevant

Sometimes Freeze framethe littlest detail, when mishandled, can significantly slow a story. Such is the case with a freeze-frame when writing fiction.

A freeze-frame occurs when the writer briefly pauses the action to describe a new character, object or setting that appears in the story. For example, her hair pinned up is a freeze-frame in Margie, her hair pinned up, entered the room. The term, borrowed from the movies, was coined by CSFW’s David Smith.

Often a freeze-frame is necessary in a story to help orient the reader. The challenge facing writers is to not overdo it. For example, the following freeze frame provides too much information:

Margie entered the room, a rectangular 11’ x 17’ with drape-covered windows on the wall opposite of the door, a twin-sized bed with a flower-print spread, and a television across from it.

The hotel room description takes up several “frames” in the story and so is akin to a camera shot lasting too long on a setting. It unnecessarily slows the story, as there’s no suspense in the description.

When writing a freeze-frame, follow a couple of simple guidelines. First, it should never last more than a sentence, and a phrase often is enough. It simply needs to point the reader in a certain direction by telling what a character’s key emotional trait is or what is the mood of a setting. Secondly, any freeze-frame needs to be relevant to the story. Simply describing someone as tall or a city as large usually is overgeneralized and insignificant (as is the case with the details in the above hotel room example). Instead, the character might tower over the others in the room or the city might span to the farthest mountain range on the horizon if the hero needs to quickly get from side of town to the other.

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Charlotte, North Carolina, or a small town like Butts, Georgia, I can provide that second eye.



Avoid reader confusion by anchoring story

Readers Anchorbeginning a story need to know where and when the tale occurs. This establishment of the story’s place and time in the first few paragraphs of the story sometimes is referred to as anchoring.

Without such anchoring, most readers will imagine that the story occurs in a different place and time than the author intended. This can lead to confusion later in the story when the author provides details that conflict with this imagined anchor. Or worse, without such anchoring, the reader will be disoriented from the start (Of course, such disorientation may be intentional – for example, if the main character has amnesia – but this strategy only works for a fraction of all tales written.).

The author need not get too specific about the place and time. That the story occurs in a large city probably is more important to know than giving the exact metropolis. In fact, giving the city’s name can be limiting as the author now must give details specific to that community. That the story occurs in the future is more important to know than giving the exact year. Indeed, in stories written during the 20th century that were set in the then far-off future year of “1999” are now out of date.

In addition, the author should avoid using exposition to provide the place and time. For example, rather than telling “It was noon in a summer day in the city” show it by writing “The glare of the sun directly overhead left every driver in the traffic jam worried about their car overheating from the air conditioner set on full blast.” The latter infers that it’s the lunch hour on a hot day in a metro area.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like St. Louis, Missouri, or a small town like Cheesequake, New Jersey, I can provide that second eye.



Describe setting from characters’ perspectives

Novice writers American Samoa NP Ofu Beachoften possess a good understanding of how to write a great description of a story’s setting and of how to present evocative details. Indeed, the ability to create beautiful imagery through words often is a skill that encouraged many aspiring writers to aspire to write a book in the first place.

Unfortunately, sometimes novice writers present great descriptions that don’t really advance the story. The use of such wording, while pretty and emotive in its own right, actually can slow the story and feel superfluous.

Usually the cause for this is the writer showing off his or her talent at penning great descriptions. But to make those appeals to sight, sound, smell, touch and taste truly great, the author ought to ensure they relate to the character in some way. Rather than simply be a lush description of any city or any street or any waiting room that any person could experience, they ought to be details that the story’s viewpoint character experiences.

By doing so, the writer gives the reader a better understanding of the viewpoint character’s motivations and perceptions of the world. The reader then can better grasp the viewpoint character’s mood and can better identify with that character.

For example, anyone visiting a beach can feel the sand between their toes, hear the screech of seagulls, and feel the warm water as the waves crash against their ankles. But writers always should ask how their viewpoint character would perceive the beach. Maybe that character finds sand between the toes scratchy, thinks the seagulls are dive bombing her, and considers the water too cold for her liking. Now the reader is experiencing the beach in the way the viewpoint character does, and we have a better sense of the latter’s personality and intentions.

Such writing does require a bit more effort on the part of the author. But the result often is a better story that the reader can better appreciate – and that always brings many rewards to the writer.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from an urban area like California's Orange County or a rural area like Loving County, Texas, I can provide that second eye.



Appeal to sense of taste in descriptions

Of the Tastefive senses, taste is the rarest in stories. The reason is that we’re not eating, drinking, smoking or falling face-first into the dirt as frequently as we are seeing, hearing and smelling the world around us.

Like the senses of sound and smell, taste ought to be reserved for moments when it can offer meaningful descriptions of an object, to raise dramatic tension or to offer insights into a character. For example, describing how an extrasolar colonist who has learned bad news suddenly finds bitter the taste of his otherwise sweet julah drink shows how the information has affected him emotionally. Unfortunately, writers too often simply describe the food a character is eating either for the gross-out factor (such as the Klingon’s gagh in “Star Trek”) or simply to find a way to get the sense of taste into their story.

Where taste and smell are concerned, sometimes you can get your descriptions to appeal to both senses. They are, after all, closely related: Humans who have temporarily lost their sense of smell due to a cold often can’t taste either. J. Chris Rock accomplishes this in his short story “Lucy” (which appears in the August 2008 Asimov’s Science Fiction): “’Seriously though,’ Elgin says, his mouth full of Fritos. I can smell them, that gross wet corn mush smell.”

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Modesto, California, or a small town like Hard Scratch, Iowa, I can provide that second eye.