One of my favorite things about reading a new book is losing myself in it. Some people have an amazing knack for writing a place in a way that makes it feel as though you're actually there, whether it's the rain-damp cobblestones of a narrow Victorian street, or rolling fields perfumed with every flower imaginable.
There's a tricky balance here: you don't want to be so overly descriptive and flowery with your language that your reader loses interest, but you need to give enough detail that your audience can build their own image. Writing is unique that way - the only way we as authors have to communicate with the reader is with the written word. It's a lot of pressure to get those words right.
Why Does It Matter?
Put simply, your story deserves to be told in the best way possible. Whatever you're trying to say, whether you want to share your own life, explore the stars on a spaceship, or fight in the Revolutionary War, needs to be given justice.
As writers and readers, we often have stories that rampage through our heads, getting tangled together so interesting fragments and strange situations arise. Putting those stories down on paper has a feeling of finality - as though once you write it, you can't take it back. I know for me actually writing it down is the hardest part because I'm afraid of losing the ephemeral, indescribable magic of the words bouncing around in my head.
All that pressure can make it really hard - we feel like we need to get it right. And, your story deserves to get it right. But you don't have to get it right the first time.
My favorite part of writing is doing just this: editing, playing with the words and characters and scenes until they're playing out just as I see in my head. There are some easy tips and tricks to do this (I've captured two below), and you shouldn't be afraid of trying. If a chapter or a moment doesn't feel right, try applying one of the following tactics.
Engage the Five Senses
As humans, every day we engage with the world using five senses - touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste. Writers will often default to using one or two of those senses to describe a place, but that can make it feel limiting and one-dimensional. Our senses crave being engaged. Take this example:
Her mouth watered as she imagined the first bite of rich chocolate and tart raspberry. Her mother clattered the plates together as she tried to set the table, but Melanie could only focus on the sweet, swirls of sugary frosting mere inches from where she sat.
In two sentences, we see what Melanie is imagining tasting, what she sees and smells, and what she hears. It's much more engaging than:
Melanie waited, impatient, by the cake as her mother puttered around collecting dishes.
This can apply to any type of writing, from describing a setting to explaining how a character feels in a moment or scene. Providing these details - and your unique perspective on them - is what gives the reader insight into your story.
Add Some Perspective
We all experience the world slightly differently. I have a friend who loves the smell and taste of cilantro - I think it smells like cheap soap and doesn't taste any better. It's these differences that help make things feel multi-dimensional, and in writing, they are important to replicate.
This starts with the point of view of your story. Do you write from the perspective of one or more characters (whether first person or third person)? If so, when you're writing a scene through the eyes of a character, you should make sure you're sharing their perspective on the scene.
In Summer Twilight, this happens a lot. Caidy and Alex are very different people - she is constantly daydreaming and is eager to absorb every sound, feeling, and sensation life has to offer. He is more guarded and reserved, carefully calculating each situation and how it could change in the blink of an eye. In descriptions, they view the same place, the same moment, very differently - and that's okay.
If you're writing from third person omniscient, you can still do this, it just takes some tweaks. Instead of describing the literal world from the perspective of your characters, you show a lot through how they interact with it. Maybe one of your characters winces when she smells pine trees because they makes her feel ill, or another wolfs down chips so fast they rip the bag in two, showing their excitement and hunger.
Bridget is the author of Summer Twilight, available for purchase now!