While I absolutely agree, that descriptions should be experienced through the narrator's / protagonist's eyes in terms of personal involvement, I oftentimes find myself puzzled in describing the basic shapes of objects.

There's spheres, toruses, cylinders, cones, cubes, cuboids, pyramids, cylinders, prisms. But for me that all sounds too mathematical and sometimes doesn't even describe the shape at all.

I wonder if someone has come up with technical descriptions of objects (esp. in sci-fi) that makes it easy to make the object become visible in the reader's mind. I.e. how would one describe the space station Babylon 5, a plain and simple screwdriver or a hammer.

I know this sounds like a simple question and 3D shapes seem to be part of the answer, but something eludes me. Maybe you have an idea. Thanks so much!

2 Answers 2


What helps me describe something is feeling the shape out. In letting your emotions experience the object, as opposed to experiencing it from a retinal view, you provide a context for an individual experience, not a general one where the dodecagon, for example, is just a dodecagon. You’d see that something, although simple, is divine in the eye of the beholder.

  • 1
    I think I know what you mean by this, but could you supply an example of how one would make such a description?
    – storbror
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 23:18
  • 3
    @storbror “the TV’s prosaic shape, all four sides gleaming in blue hue, gave way to the atmosphere of an evening: staring into events captured within four sides not how I wanted, but how I turned out.”
    – bvcolic
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 23:22
  • @cælvm - Thank you, your example was illuminating. Well done! Thanks!
    – at_
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 20:04
  • @cælvm Cool - Consider adding it to your answer!
    – storbror
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 10:33

I often close my eyes and imagine myself holding an object I've never seen before. How does it feel? Is it heavy and smooth or hollow with skin like an orange? I do this because sometimes my characters have no idea what they're looking at.

I find myself imagining what it smells like, too. And sometimes, if it's tech, I "listen for" the sounds it might produce. A low hum, perhaps?

I had to google "Babylon 5". (I had totally forgotten how it looked!) My initial thought was it's a mechanical space whale. I do that a lot, comparing strange shapes with something in nature. If I want my characters to feel intimidated, I'll focus on details like sharp protruding edges or shadows.

I like words like "pyramids", "circles", "spheres" and "cylinders". They're easy to understand and I can go on with my story. Some words are universal and invisible. And sometimes, focusing on one or two details is enough.

Happy writing!

  • I absolutely love your space whale. :) And your ideas. Thank you so much!
    – at_
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 20:04

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