Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading.
How to Improve Your Descriptive Writing: Utilizing Your Senses
When it comes to writing, starting with more is always better than starting with less. Meaning during your proofreading and editing session, cutting the fat is easier than adding the meat and potatoes. This comes in handy if you’re an overly descriptive, explanatory, or detailed when writing. It’s easy to cut out all the extra adjectives or sections that don’t push the story’s progress. However, what if you’re not that great at descriptions? What if you have trouble coming up with an accurate description of your setting? What if you have a hard time trying to explain a woman crying over a lost child? What if your most common complaint from agents and editors is, “Show, don’t tell”? Then you might be a light descriptive writer or someone who explains how someone is feeling rather than showing the tears fall from his or her eyes or breaking a glass over another run-in with his or her ex. If you have trouble with descriptions, you are not alone. There are tons of writers who have worked extensively to improve their descriptions, and they have succeeded. One of the best tips I’ve heard from writers it to utilize your senses. If you take the time to think about every single sense, the scene easily fleshes itself out.
Let’s say you have started a proofreading session. You’re looking back through your work, and you notice that it excels in tone and storyline but lacks proper adjectives that you need bring the story to life. Suppose your story takes place in rural Oregon. Think about what sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and sights would occur in the woods of Oregon. You may write about fluffy pine trees, a slow-running stream, birds chirping, the smell of moss, moist mud, some crispy tree bark, a freshly picked piece of fruit, a granola bar, or the smell and taste of fresh rain; there are millions of possible choices. If you cycle through every sense, you can clearly see the scene and easily describe it. As such, clear descriptions pull the reader into your universe and connect them to your characters. Indeed, one of the worst outcomes of your story would be that readers do not realize key attributes about your main characters. For example, one character may have been blind, or another's favorite food may have been mashed potatoes, or perhaps a character lived on an island their entire life due to a paralyzing fear of the ocean. A writer could easily pull in a description to show a character’s fear by the scent, sight, touch, sound, and taste of the ocean. This would also flesh out the scene and show the environment/setting of the story as well as a deeper glimpse into the character’s motivations. An important piece to remember as well is the fact that every writer goes back through during proofreading to add and delete. Whether it’s descriptions, characters, themes, or an ending, writers and editors use proofreading as a chance to revitalize and clean out the clutter. Descriptions are one of the vital organs of the writing system. If your process turns out to be going back through your work during proofreading to add more description, that’s totally ok, and many of the best writers do the exact same thing.
Descriptions are a healthy part of a writer’s diet. There are resources that can even help improve your descriptive gene. A good writer always has a dictionary and thesaurus around for word choice and clarity help. Grammarly, an online writing tool, can also provide useful help. They have an amazing synonym generator along with other adaptive and proofreading tools to help make your descriptions high quality and free of errors. There are other resources such as the book On Writing Well by William Zinsser that can also help improve descriptive writing. Don’t fret if you’re proofreading and editing and find that your manuscript is missing some crucial descriptive elements. Just use your senses and the description will easily flow from mind to pen.
By Nikolas Baron