The Writing Life: Making Descriptions Strong



Making Descriptions Strong

By Michelle Janene

I was talking with a friend the other day and she commented on how much she liked the way I wrote descriptions. “How do you do that?”

“I have a weird brain,” I confessed.

My friend laughed. “You not only recognize that about yourself; you own it.”

So how do I do it? There are a few things that come to play in my works.

First, I write a lot of historical pieces. Even my fantasies have a medieval bent to them.

I can’t say that something sped by like a runaway freight train. There are no trains. I have to come up with something that would be period specific that is fast and can have a huge impact much like a train. I close my eyes and try to image what my characters see.

It hurtled past like an overloaded wagon behind startled horses.

It flew like a boulder freed from a precipice.


I also like personification. Giving human actions or characteristics to inanimate objects can create descriptions that have a familiar feel to them when in fact they are quite foreign.

The blue hue of the waking sun kissed the homes at the east side of the square.

There is also the trick of relating one thing to something completely different. Create a unique pairing that the reader won’t be expecting.

A thick blanket of time covered the altar.

Consciousness invaded her oblivion.

Another way I create descriptions is by explaining in more detail what is happening. It is perfectly acceptable to say something swirled or hissed but what if it were described in more detail to make the picture written in words more sensory.

It sputtered like a fire when water is tossed on it.

Finally, I picture my stories in my head, long before I go to the computer. I act out action scenes to make sure they are plausible, and I see all the events as if it were a movie and not a written story. Interpreting my inner visions does not always translate, but more often than not, I get it right.

Even his own hair fled his hot-tempered head.

Essentially, the way I write descriptions comes down to these points:

  1. I picture what the character would have seen in the certain time period.

  2. Using personification adds unique elements to my writing.

  3. I think outside of normal or the common place relating typically unrelated things.

  4. Painting a verbal picture helps my reader engage.

  5. Using physical movements to give credibility helps my story have a realistic flow.

Pick a new way to do descriptions. Try one or more of these options. Picture what is happening. Act it out. Come up with a new what to say something common that is unique to your character, or the time period. Own your weirdness too. It’s a lot of fun.

About the Author


Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer. She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.

You can find her at Strong Tower Press, Turret Writing, on Facebook, Twitter, and on Goodreads.

You can read Michelle's writing column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.


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