Making Description Work for You

I use description sparingly, because as a reader I usually find it dead boring. How many ways can you describe sunrises, sunsets, moonlight peeking through tree branches? Now, if you could handle description the way Charles Frazier did in his debut masterpiece, Cold Mountain, you’d never lose my attention. Here’s a taste of Frazier’s prose:

“The hayfield beyond the beaten dirt of the school playground stood pant-waist high, and the heads of grasses were turning yellow from need of cutting. The teacher was a round little man, hairless and pink of face. He owned but one rusty black suit of clothes and a pair of old overlarge dress boots that curled up at the toes and were so worn down that the heels were wedgelike. He stood at the front of the room rocking on the points.”

Some writers make you want to emulate them. Frazier makes me want to surrender and simply read.

Often the best way to make description work is to leave it out and stimulate your reader’s theater of the mind. If you can come close to what Frazier does above, go for it.

Other writers go for economy. The late great mystery writer John D. MacDonald once described a character as “knuckly.” It evoked a complete picture in my mind.

React: How do you handle description? Submit a sample from the manuscript you’re working on now.

Jerry B. Jenkins is the author of more than 175 books, with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series. His latest novel is The Betrayal, the second book in the Precinct 11 series. Visit him online.

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