I understand the "only describe what is necessary" rule. If a character's appearance is important, I'll describe it in moderation. But what if I'm writing a scene that needs a lot of description? What if the main character of my story, who is a strict vegan, stumbles into a slaughterhouse? My MC would definitely see every detail... but how do I describe every detail without falling into purple prose?

If possible, could you provide a line or two of examples? Or maybe a "what to do" vs. "what not to do" sort of thing?

2 Answers 2


I think this depends a lot on what you want to achieve. If, in your given example, you want to convey the feelings your MC experiences, you must be graphic or even gory. Parenthetically, as a vegetarian myself, I can totally empathize with such descriptions - but, trying to see the other side, you should try to visualize how they would make meat-eating audiences react.

I think the best piece of advice I can offer (albeit, a bit generic one) is to limit yourself to visual (and aural) depictions. Describe scenes during and emotions afterwards. For example:

Instead of: John felt sick to his stomach witnessing the dark rivers of blood flowing by his feet, soaking the soles of his shoes. He felt immense rage and despair hearing the distant cries"

Opt for: John walked carefully on the stained floor, dark rivers of blood flowing by his feet, soaking the soles of his shoes. In the background, lost amid the cold bangs of the killing machines, he could hear some distant cries


Supporting Digital Dracula's excellent answer, don't be afraid to leave out details which have a long shelf life. Revulsion, for example, is not likely to leave your character in the moment he leaves the killing room. If your scene demands detailed and emotion-inducing descriptions, leave your character's emotions unspoken until a quieter, less word-bound moment. Instead, use your words to assault the reader's senses, unfiltered by either your character's perspective or a distant third-person POV. Just drop the facts of the scene on the page in simple sentences, cold truths.

John walked carefully on the stained floor, dark blood congealing into the his shoes with every step. Gears grind constantly in the background. The clang of metal striking metal abuses his ears. Metal on flesh and bone sounds worse. Under it all, the desperate cries of the animals, waiting to die.

Then when both the reader and John escape that horrifying room, you can reflect on John's emotional reaction.

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