How can I improve my technique in description?

Which things I should avoid in description?

How can I know, that I put "enough" description and will go to narration?

My description technique is bad (I think) in these cases:

a) I can't find balance between "small" and "too much" description

b) I can't describe things "as they are": I use "fantasy" words and tips for it. I try to give every object soul and see, what it will tell. Maybe this is too "childish". If so I want to change it.

c) sometimes I see, that narration is sinking in ENORMOUS description

  • 1
    I think this question is too broad to be answerable here. (It also feels like a list question.) I think it would work better if you asked specific questions of the form "how do I improve technique X?". Try to ask the "how" question; if there are authors who are particularly good at that it will come up in answers. Your goal is to get better at X, not just to find authors, so try to ask about the goal and not about one possible approach. Does that make sense? Apr 16, 2013 at 13:02
  • @MonicaCellio Good, thank you! It will be better to reach goal, not to choose approach Apr 16, 2013 at 13:08
  • I agree that this is too broad to be answerable. It's also asking for a list of writers to read, a type of question that's not only off-topic here but doesn't mix particularly well with Stack Exchange sites: How will people vote on the answer? loldop, are you willing to edit this to reflect Monica's suggestions? Apr 16, 2013 at 16:21
  • @NeilFein yes, I edited question. If you can make question more informative or clear, please, make it. Thank you for help! Apr 16, 2013 at 16:55
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    writers.stackexchange.com/search?q=description will give you some things to look at without generating discussion. Apr 16, 2013 at 17:24

3 Answers 3


I've been applying Dean Wesley Smith's challenge to use "all five senses every two pages." Using all five senses helps remind me to include sensory details, and many of these are about setting. I'm finding that remarkably helpful. If there is some sense I haven't used lately, I may have lost touch with the setting.

Once I get the hang of this, I may drop the "every two pages" rule. But I'll likely to continue to use "every two pages" as a reminder to check whether I am giving enough sensory details to keep the reader grounded in the setting.

Another idea that I learned from Dean: All setting is opinion. What this tells me is which details to focus on. Focus on the details about which the POV character has an opinion. This helps me to introduce setting while staying firmly in the POV character's head. It also helps me to use setting as a way to characterize the character.

It also keeps me from droning on about setting. At any given moment, the character has an opinion about some elements of the setting and not others. So I mention the ones that are on the character's mind. Those are the ones that matter to the story.


Describing a scene, or setting

My descriptive ability is not anything to brag about however the technique I find works well is to describe a scene in a single point of time, rather than talking about things that are going to happen or have happened just imagine (or look at if you're describing something real) the scene as if it's frozen in time.

General Description

The other thing I do is I try to incorporate all five senses. When I first started writing, I would notice after I had written a piece that I had mostly just talked about the visual aspect, and had to go back through and edit it to incorporate everything else (the smell, the way it feels, the sounds), but it came more easily as time went on.

Another thing I would is to let the reader infer rather than telling them directly (although admittedly this will vary according to writing style), here's an example:

Jamie walked along tiredly.


Jamie dragged his leaden feet along the ground and struggled to keep his eyes open.

Other than that just look at (and touch, smell and taste) stuff, and try to describe them, as time goes on your descriptive ability will improve.

  • thank you. But how can I know, that I should stop description and go to narration? If reader see big part of description, first Jamie walked along tiredly. will break description and take him to narration. in second version reader will fall asleep or something, if I can't continue narration fast. Apr 16, 2013 at 17:31

If I try to answer this myself, I'll probably end up writing a whole book in this little text box and only realize it three hours later. Instead, I'm going to direct you to Limyaael.


Most of her stuff is about fantasy, but this is applicable to basically any genre.

In general, though, your reader should have an idea where the characters are, but shouldn't know about every object in the room, or how the furniture is arranged. Just what's meaningful: the little boy's teddy bear, given to him by his sister, which he carries around everywhere, or the professor's chair by the fire, maybe, because those are prominent things.

But not the side table by the stairs, the potted African violets in the windowsill, and the family pictures on the walls--unless these become important. If there's a dagger hidden in the violets or someone's going to crash into the side table in a fight and you want to mention that it's got a candleholder he can use as a blunt instrument, that makes it important. If the family pictures on the walls include vampires, that could also be important. What's important enough to describe is a matter of your own style, but make sure it's readable. If you can't tell, read other people's novels and compare, and get some readers who are not your family or otherwise sparing of your feelings.

This is sometimes referred to as the Law of Conservation of Detail. Here's the TVTropes page on it. (TVTropes is very useful to writers.)


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