I've been writing for a while now, and everyday I feel I'm getting more serious about it. But the quality of my fiction stories are straightforward and blah.

I notice I'm not using enough descriptive words and even when in trying to it never turns out. Like here is an example.

What I wish mine was: "His legs felt like cooked noodles. If he ran one more step he would collapse to the floor."

What mine is: "His legs felt awful. If he ran he be using up the last bit of strength."

Q- How can I write with descriptive words that really put the reader in the protagonists shoes?



  • 2
    Honestly, I (and lots of readers) prefer the straightforward approach. I like your second example better than the "cooked noodles" one. Jun 1 '17 at 13:48

The Carnegie Hall method: Practice, practice, practice.

You were able to come up with the cooked noodles metaphor, right? So clearly your describing skills are not broken. You just have to work them out.

Get a notebook. Moleskine, marbled-cover, stack of pages stapled together, whatever works.

Set aside time every day — start with 15 minutes and work up. This is your practice time.

During this practice time, pick something to describe. It can be an object, a sensation, the weather, sunset, a person, the dog, a texture — something you can observe in some fashion. Try to keep it concrete and literal at this stage.

Write down your descriptions. They can be prosaic at first (grass is green), but you must work the whole 15 minutes. After you've stated that grass is green, you have to come up with something else to say about it. What does it smell like? Is it sharp? smooth? is the tip pointed or chopped off? Are there other kinds of grass next to it? Is it a pure green or bluish or brownish?

This forces you to a) really look at something b) put your observations into actual words c) write those words down.

There's a similar question on this Stack about describing pain which you might find useful: Effective techniques for describing pain

Eventually you will go beyond "grass is green" and start coming up with figures of speech just to have something to say to fill the 15 minutes. The more you do this, the easier it will become.

Once you've gotten better at Things You Can Observe, start practicing with Things You Can Remember. Write down everything you recall about a particular moment in time.

When you feel comfortable with transcribing your memories, you can start practicing with Things You Can Imagine. And that's when "legs like cooked noodles" will start to pop up.


You can't really focus on describing feelings. The key is to get the reader to recall existing feelings.

Let's examine your wish: "His legs felt like cooked noodles."

  • This is semi-ambiguous. How exactly does a cooked noodle feel?

"If he ran one more step he would collapse to the floor."

  • Where else would he collapse to?

Compare: "The moment she heard the shot, her mind told her to run. All around she could hear screaming, shouting, and mayhem. When her throat began to burn and her lungs felt as if to explode, fear told her not to stop - just keep running, as fast as she could."

  • "When her throat began to burn and her lungs felt as if to explode . . ." - Every person who has been involved in competitive sports or pushed their physical limits knows that feeling. Anybody who runs knows its the respiratory system that hurts first. In the moment legs do not feel tired - they simply refuse to obey instructions.

"Write what you know?" dictates the ebb and flow of your story. You can go to town, really detail, events similar to those you have experienced - not so much detail on the rest.

You can also map one experience onto another. e.g. I suffered from sleep-paralysis as a child. I can use that experience to write 'being dead' or 'locked-in syndrome'.


The holy grail to your quest is to show the reader per the character’s point of view as opposed to telling the reader what is taking place.

Surtsey’s answer hints around showing vs telling but does not follow through on the concept.

It’s all about point of view, how your character sees the world through their own filters and limited knowledge.

Let’s looks at your example:
His legs felt awful. If he ran he be using the last bit of strength.

This is telling. Change it to showing. Show evidence that he felt awful as opposed to telling us its awful.

For example:
Pain raced from the tips of his toes to the joints in his hips.

This is evidence that he felt awful.

In this example avoid the point of view error of independently moving body parts. Legs can’t feel, but your character can feel.

Telling and showing at the same time.
He felt awful. His legs raced with pain.

Complete showing example:
Pain raced from the tips of his toes to the joints in his hips. He gripped his pelvis and groaned. “I need a hot shower and whole tube of Ben-Gay.”

The key to description is showing evidence of the action being told.

A handful of common telling red flags:
He felt
He realized
He wondered
He saw
He heard
He rolled his eyes
He sighed

  • The problem is unrelated to show vs tell. Show don't tell is the most misunderstood piece of writing advice. Your list of red flags makes no sense. The first four are internal (not actions) and cannot be show. Eye-rolling and sighing can both be shown. Show controls the visual and telling the internal. "Joe sat on the rock with his head buried in his hands. He realised Kathy didn't love him. He wondered how he could ever have believed her lies. He heard the footsteps of the others drawing nearer. He sighed. "Time to get going." . . . That example sucked but you get the picture.
    – Surtsey
    Jun 3 '17 at 6:17
  • I disagree. You are not showing me anything. You are telling me. As a result there is a lack of description. Jun 3 '17 at 10:02
  • Mr Axiom you're not getting it - A boy is sitting on rock 'thinking'. His hands are covering his race. You cannot SHOW me what he's thinking without moving him. You must TELL the reader what he's thinking. If you were to strictly follow SHOW DON'T TELL the resulting story would result in the OBJECTIVE point of view.
    – Surtsey
    Jun 3 '17 at 16:39

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