I’ve been discussing description in a few of my recent blogs:
- “On Writing: Editing Your Description”
- “Description: If it Doesn’t Matter, Axe It!”
- “Description: MAKE it Matter!”
- “Description: Bring Your World to Life!”
Today, I’ll discuss how to make your description balanced—how to make it blend.
First, you must understand the Rule of Three’s. Stephen King discusses this in his book, On Writing, in much better detail than I can. So purchase his book—it’s an amazing book and worth it. And no, I don’t know Stephen King personally, and no one has asked me to say this. It’s just a really good book about writing. (Kids, it contains a few bad words, so ask your parents first.)
I’m assuming you all will read about the Rule of Three’s from the master, so I’ll just sum it up here:
- You only need three or four main details when you first introduce a scene. For instance, in A Prophecy Forgotten, book I of the Elysian Chronicles, needed to give the reader a quick introduction to The Treetop Inn, a key setting, not only in A Prophecy Forgotten, but also in Out of the Shadows. It deserves a paragraph introduction. I’ve highlighted my main details:
The Treetop Inn had been the most popular meeting place in the City of Ezzer for five centuries. It was located in the top of one of the tallest trees in the city, and it was one of the only buildings left from the days of Edenian when Ezzer was king. The vast tavern’s only light came from a few glow torches and patches of sunlight that poured through its multicolored crystal windows. It had plump, cushy booths for quiet conversations, immense round tables with soft perching stools for lively parties, and the best honeywine and finest service in all Elysia.
(The “best honeywine and service” are small bits of “telling” because I can only show so much.)
- The reader will fill in the rest of the details.Did I tell you about the wood-paneled walls? Did I mention the smells? I admit I cheated. I snuck in a few sounds (quiet conversations and lively parties), but you’re inside the Treetop Inn. You’ve filled in the details for me, saving me a bunch of work. (Thank you, by they way.)
Oh, remember that the Rule of Three’s applies to introducing characters as well.
You’ve started with your three to four main description elements, but you know you want to add description to more of the scene, and you should. But how do you add description without boring the reader?
Blend it in!
When I first wrote A Prophecy Forgotten, I included three paragraphs that described cherubians (my angel creatures) in full detail into my first chapter. A big writing mistake! I axed the paragraphs and blended the necessary detail into my narrative when I introduced Arch Seraph Zephor. First, I looked over my paragraphs and pulled out the details I knew I could show instead of tell:
- Zephor’s uniform (a seraph’s uniform, silver and black)
- Non-seraph uniforms (LAF uniforms, maroon and black)
- Cherubian wingspan compared to body height
- Cherubian wing color is not white
- Zephor is old.
These sections take place at different stages in “Chapter One: A Message of Hope.” I’ve underlined the “blended parts.”
Arch-Seraph Zephor clasped his hands behind his back and paced back and forth along the wall that surrounded the Southern Command Tower. The black leather trim on his grey seraph’s kilt swished just above his knees. His black boots, by design, made no sound. Zephor ignored both the icy wind that rustled through his brown wings and the annoying sprite that kept singing in his ear. As he stared at the gloomy, endless sea of fog that surrounded the tower, the creases around his brown eyes deepened, and he wrinkled his nose. The fog hid the southern front’s charred, leafless trees and scorched grass, but it still failed to block out the territory’s smoky stench.
Zephor continued pacing around the wall, where soldiers wearing the maroon and black kilts of the Elysian army guarded the tower with their bows readied. Their black breastplates and helmetsbore numerous dents and scratches from recent battles. Notched swords hung at their sides; mud caked their boots, legs, and arms; and their shoulders hunched from weariness. Normally, Zephor would have complained about the lack of supplies and weapons and demanded to know why his country refused to send him reinforcements… He extended his wings, which were shaped like a falcon’s and measured twice the length of his body, and flew to the ground, where he continued pacing.
(To read the first chapters of A Prophecy Forgotten in their entirety, click here.)
Blending not only helped me add a description of cherubians into my prose, but it also helped me describe the Elysian military’s exhaustion, Elysia’s war-torn Southern Front, and hint at political turmoil. Double duty.
So take those details you want to include in your prose—details that will enhance the mood of your book (or your book’s soundtrack)—and blend them in. Don’t let your old crone just “point at the forest.” Make her “point a twisted, spindly finger at the shadows in the forest.”
You’ve added two sensory details to your story. You’ve enhanced your reader’s experience ten-fold, and you only used four extra words! That’s spending your words wisely! It’s giving your words double duty! It’s making your description matter! Best yet, it makes your world come alive!
Be sure to check out my new To Elysia and Back Again podcast every Tuesday! Click here for more information.
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, which is being adapted into a graphic novel series by Wandering Sage Publications, Inc., with Weston penning the script and KISS comic book artist, Adam Black, doing the art. Weston hosts a podcast on her To Elysia and Back Again blog, which can be downloaded on itunes. Click here for a complete listing of the To Elysia and Back Againpodcast episodes. Weston is also the host of The Final Cut in Movies, an internet radio talk show about science fiction and fantasy movies on Ad Astra Radio, which can also be heard as a podcast on M. B. Weston’s Podcasts site or on iTunes. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.