The plot and character sketches provide the skeleton of a story, while description adds the muscle that makes that skeleton move.
Description carries the story along through the use of the senses, bringing life to what happens along the storyline.
But description can be overdone like eating too much, so that eventually the muscle loses battle against the fat.
There are a few ways description falls flat, such as:
- Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours.”
- Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
- Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Tree and bird are general nouns, as opposed to a birch oak or maple and a cardinal or robin.
Verbs are important in description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. The river spit onto the rocks is more descriptive than the bubbling river.
Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple.
Description is what fills the pages of a story. To keep readers interested, choose words carefully, making sure every word has a purpose. That purpose can be establishing setting, developing character or moving the plot forward.
Use the senses, touching, tasting, smelling and hearing (sight is obvious), to let the reader experience what you are describing.