Saturday, October 13, 2012

Description In Fiction Writing

For me, I feel it is essential to get the right amount of description in my manuscripts. Good description incorporates many elements such as setting, feel, character emotion, and more. To much description can hinder the pace.

Below is a fun post by my good friend Angela Ackerman--and its just in time for Holloween. Angela is the author of The Emotion Thesaurus. The Emotion Thesaurus is a valuable resource for writers filled with description tips on emotion, dialougue, characters and setting.
I love writing description in my novels. I enjoy bringing the reader into my world, seeing it as I do as I'm creating it.

Setting Description Entry: Haunted House (inside)


Dust, cobwebs, sheets on furniture, broken tables, chairs, windows, lamps, peeling wallpaper, gaps in the floorboards, holes in the walls, flickering lights (if there's electricity) chandelier with broken strings of crystals, broken glass on the floor, spiders, cockroaches, rust, mildew, ripped curtains, shadows, gloomy staircases, old portraits & paintings, cracked or dirty doors, moving shadows, apparitions, outlines of people, objects moving by themselves (doorknobs turning, doors opening, cups falling out of cupboards, cutlery clattering, chairs rocking or sliding across the floor), mice, rats, ectoplasm, glowing lights, fireplace suddenly starting up on its own, messages appearing and disappearing on the walls or on windows or mirrors in the fog, blood or other substance, dirt, grit, ripped up books, papers and debris lying about, rodent feces


footsteps on the stair, creaking doors, window shutters rattling on the outside, wind scattering/rustling paper through a broken window gap, words whispered in ear, screams, crying, wailing, laughter, glass smashing, the scrap of a chair moving, the scritch of tree branches scraping at the windows, rats squeaking, movement in the walls, a piano/radio/record player starting up all by itself, radio static, creaks, squeaks, thuds, bumps, scrapes, whistles, boots across the floor, locks clicking into place, creaky movement coming from the ceiling or floor above, howls, groans, cackles, cupboard doors flapping open and shut, doors slamming, creaky banisters, rustles, unidentified noises, breathing sounds, murmuring or muttering coming from other rooms, the sound of pacing


Phantom perfume or cologne, burning smells, pipe or cigarette smoke, mildew, rot, dank, rusty or metallic smells, wet wood and stone, rancid breath, yeasty beer smell, food, dust, dry rot, rat/mice feces, urine


Sour & dry mouth from fear, dust floating in the air and coating the tongue, salty tears


A phantom hand on the shoulder, the puff of breath on the earlobe or the back of the neck, the sensation of being grabbed on the arm, pushed, pulled, pinched, poked, slapped, burned, a feeling of light-headedness and nausea, hair rising on arms or the back of the neck, the body's reaction to a drop in temperature (chills, shivering, breath puffing out in clouds, running a finger through dust, pulling back a thick drape, fingers clutching at a banister as you go up or down the stairs, pulling on the light bulb chain in the basement, stairs giving underfoot, rattling a doorknob that has locked itself, pressing a face against the glass, trying to see out, touching objects inside the house out of curiosity: a candelabra dripping with spiderwebs at the dining room table, a man's hat hanging from a coat rack, pulling open drawers and cupboards, pushing doors open with the flat of the hand, clutching at a flashlight or object to use as a weapon, desperately punching in numbers of a cell phone, bumping into furniture or walls in the dark, slipping on throw rugs or mildew, clutching at own face or hair in desperation, hugging arms around shoulders or waist in fear, cringing, jumping, trembling, a hand clutching at the mouth to stop a scream, swallowing to try to slow breathing and heartbeat, hot tears running down cheeks, a sore throat from crying

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

I cringed at each creak on the old warped stairs, but it didn't sway my determination to make it to the bedroom on the second floor. Halfway up, a shadow flickered at the corner of my vision. I froze, and as I stood there, caught a woody scent lingering in the air. Tobacco smoke? A shiver curled through the hairs on the back of my neck then cascaded down my backbone. It was all I could do to not hurl myself back down the stairs toward the front door.

Example 2:

Gail stepped into the nursery, her throat tightening at the thick dust floating in the air. Sunlight slipped through the cracked boards covering the window, illuminating a child's wooden rocking horse sitting out on a tattered rug. The toy's wooden seat was worn smooth, coated in dirt, and cobwebs matted the corded mane and tail.

The air shimmered and a young boy flickered into view. Gail gasped, watching his pale hands grasp at the mane, pulling himself into the seat. Slowly the horse began to rock, much to the jubilation of its ghostly rider.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

The moment I entered the master bedroom I felt it: warm, moist air brushing my ear like a stalker's breath.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

The dining room chair suddenly jolted back and tilted toward me, a gracious invitation by an invisible host.



  1. This is an incredibly helpful post, thank you so much! And I agree Eliza, they are good!

  2. I own The Emotions Thesaurus and absolutely love it! I plan to use it extensively during my revision process. Thanks to both Angelas!

  3. Thanks Katrina! Good luck with your revisions :)

  4. This is one of my favorite Settings, because it gets me in the mood for Halloween! Thanks for giving it a shout out, Ladies!



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