For my current project, the use of vivid description is essential for carrying across the particularly alien experience of the protagonist. This leads to a problem, however, when my protagonist needs to frequently revisit somewhere or do something they've already done before. I can mix up the description a little or focus on different elements, but ultimately there are only so many ways to tactfully do so before it becomes obviously repetitive or offensive. And I do feel the description is necessary because sometimes themes in a story benefit from a heavy-handed approach that never lets the reader forget - e.g. a story where the protagonist is deeply insecure about something and lets it color their every experience.

Is this asking too much from a long-form story? Should I trust my readers more? I am honestly lost for how to proceed.

PS: Apologies if this has already been asked or at least answered elsewhere on this website; I tried to search for relevant threads but most of it appears to deal with repetition on a smaller scale than what concerns me.

2 Answers 2


It's all about perspective and story:

People pay attention to what is relevant to what's going on. While the first time you enter the grand imperial plaza the descriptions will be vivid, the third time, it's a courtyard where they are having lunch, and what is relevant is the princess walking through without her retinue. So the details that are vividly described will be completely different.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that vivid needs to be grand. If you're talking alien, then talking about how the wise and enlightened alien without a sense of smell stinks after not wiping coming from the bathroom can be vivid. Also don't make the mistake of having a grand scene where you intimately describe every detail of what is happening. Reveal the vivid details over time, as they become relevant to the characters and plot. Too much beautiful description ends up just being infodump.

If you need to keep coming back to the same descriptions over and over, then make sure each time you examine some different aspect of what is described. So if a being is huge, covered in claws and fangs, the characters will notice THAT the first time. The second time, they talk to it and describe it's voice, and realize it's skin is soft and dry. The third time, they know he-she is a hermaphrodite and has cycles of more male or female behavior, and he-she's six eyes change color to show how he-she's feeling.

Then of course the character's perceptions will change how they see the alien experience. Early childhood trauma with a Grey alien abduction might leave the character unable to trust aliens until they get to know them. Every early description would then be filled with horror and disgust. The same alien experience might be very different by the end of the story when they've dealt with their feelings or put them aside and seen the alien for what they are inside. Nasty-smelling toilet behavior and all.


The first technique is to have your character think about how repetitive it is. Makes it part of the immersion.

The second technique is to pare down the description as the character becomes used to it. A character who would notice every scratch on a tool the first time will act much more automatically when acting again.

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