Description: Where Good Readers Depart

Description: Where Good Readers DepartThere are many tools to keep a story engaging and to keep a reader turning the pages—and most of them involve a degree of conflict. Whether it’s an internal conflict within the mind of the protagonist, or a clash of wills in a conversation, or a full-throttle action scene; without a measure of conflict, a chapter can feel shallow and lifeless. And herein lies the challenge of description.

Description: Where Good Readers Depart

Without description, the story has no context. Too much description and you may as well depict the Mona Lisa as a landscape painting. Yes, the masters of literature could hold a reader with line upon line of description, but most readers tune out when faced with too many paragraphs of narrative clumped together. At best, some skip read (and run the risk of missing out on key information to the plot); at worst, some close the book … and don’t return.

While the secret lies in bleeding description into scenes that involve conflict, there are times that description needs to be the focus itself—especially when you’ve thrust your characters into a new planet (and you want your readers to experience this new world), or even when describing the context is important to the scene itself.

Eden, Dawn and description: where readers departKeeping description short, tight and connected to the protagonist is crucial; appealing to the senses of the reader helps, too. Here is a scene from Eden, Dawn in which I tried to do just that.

“It was midmorning when we arrived. Even from a trek away, I had caught sight of several plumes of camp-fire smoke twisting up from the main camp, snaking high into the air, holding their near-vertical course, before disappearing into the distant thermals. There was not even a breath of wind today. Typical of spring. And the mauve-tinted sky was sparsely dotted with thread-like clouds that would soon vanish in the noontime sun. A perfect day.

Summer was the rainy season—when the afternoon thunderstorms arrived like clockwork. Although it provided a break from the unbearable, scorching summer heat, courtesy of Eden’s proud, young sun, the blitz of rain showers was brutal, tearing through the jungle canopy with fist-sized rain drops that bombed the flora with vicious intent, almost as though the thunder-angry sky was at war with the ground. As millions of wet shells assaulted millions of leaves, the fallout was so loud, so deafening, that attempts to talk during the bombardment were futile. Only the large, waxy leaves of the large jungle ferns provided some cover from the pelting raid, even though no one escaped a thorough drenching—which given the heat wasn’t the problem. What was extremely unpleasant, suffocatingly so, was the soup-thick cloying humidity that immediately rushed in behind the dispersing rain clouds as the summer sun baked the wet, shell-shocked jungle.

Think warm, pea-green soup. Now, think swimming in the stuff.

Did I succeed? You be the judge. Share your thoughts below.

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