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Best Way To Describe A Short Story: Techniques For Crafting Engaging Fictional Descriptions

As the saying goes, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ but what about a short story? The way you describe a short story can make or break its appeal to readers. Crafting an engaging fictional description is a skill that every writer should possess. And as a reader, you know that you’re more likely to pick up a short story that has a captivating description.

In this article, you’ll learn the best techniques for describing a short story that will grab the reader’s attention. From the hook to the author’s style, we’ll break down the essential elements of a great description. Whether you’re a writer looking to improve your craft or a reader searching for the next great short story, these techniques will help you create and find engaging fictional descriptions.

So, let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • A unique and relevant hook is essential for grabbing the reader’s attention when describing a short story.
  • Using vivid language and sensory details can help to create an immersive and captivating narrative that will keep the reader engaged.
  • It’s important to focus on essential elements and minimize plot reveals when crafting a description, in order to avoid giving away too much of the story.
  • The author’s unique style can be showcased through tone, motifs, and figurative language, which can help to make the description stand out and engage the audience.

Start with a Hook

Don’t want your readers to put your short story down? Start with a hook that’ll grab ’em by the heartstrings!

Unique opening ideas can include starting with a shocking statement, a question that begs to be answered, or an enigmatic quote that sets the tone for the whole story. Whatever you choose, the key is to make sure your hook is relevant to the story you’re telling.

It should give your readers a sense of what’s to come and make them curious enough to keep reading.

The importance of relevance cannot be overstated when it comes to crafting the perfect hook. Your opening should be relevant to the story you’re telling, but it also needs to be relevant to your readers.

It should appeal to their emotions, values, and desires, and make them feel invested in your story from the very first sentence.

By starting with a hook that’s both unique and relevant, you’ll be able to grab your readers’ attention and keep them engaged until the very end.

Use Vivid Language

Using descriptive and emotive language is a powerful tool in creating an immersive and captivating narrative. To truly engage your readers, you must use vivid language that paints a picture in their minds. Show don’t tell.

Instead of simply stating that the sky was blue, describe the way the clouds drifted lazily across the vast expanse of blue, creating an endless canvas of color that stretched out before you.

Sensory details are key in creating a vivid description that immerses your readers in your story. Use sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell to create a full sensory experience.

Describe the way the damp earth squelches beneath your feet as you walk through the forest. The sound of the leaves rustling in the gentle breeze. The sweet, tangy taste of the ripe strawberries on your tongue.

By using sensory details, you can transport your readers to another world and make them feel as though they are living your story alongside your characters.

Keep it Short and Sweet

When it comes to writing short stories, keeping it short and sweet is key. Focus on the essential elements of the story and avoid spoilers or unnecessary details. By doing so, you’ll keep your readers engaged and wanting more. You’ll also provide a satisfying and complete story.

Note: Contractions have been used in the output. Additionally, complete sentences have been logically grouped on their own lines with a double new line after each group.

Focus on the Essential Elements of the Story

Emphasizing the key elements is crucial for a captivating short story that’ll leave readers in awe. When crafting a description for a short story, it’s important to focus on the essential elements that drive the plot and character development forward.

Here are three techniques to help you evoke emotion in your audience:

  • Use sensory details to immerse your readers in the world of the story. Engage their senses with smells, tastes, and sounds that create a vivid picture in their minds.
  • Develop dynamic characters that readers can relate to and empathize with. Give your characters flaws and challenges that they must overcome, making them more relatable and human.
  • Keep the plot progression moving forward with a clear, concise narrative. Tension and conflict are essential elements of a short story, so make sure the plot is always driving towards a resolution.

By focusing on these essential elements, you can create a description that’ll engage your audience and leave them wanting more. Remember, a successful short story is all about creating an emotional connection with your readers, so use these techniques to craft a description that’ll leave them feeling inspired and moved.

Avoid Spoilers or Unnecessary Details

Picture yourself as a treasure hunter, carefully navigating through a minefield of spoilers and unnecessary details to uncover the true essence of your short story.

You know that a good description should give your readers a taste of what to expect from your story, without spoiling the entire plot. That’s why it’s important to minimize plot reveals and avoid giving away too much information in your description.

Instead, focus on the most essential elements of your story, such as the main character’s motivation or the central conflict.

Brevity is also crucial when crafting a compelling description. Your readers don’t want to be bogged down by unnecessary details or lengthy exposition. Instead, aim to capture the essence of your story in just a few sentences.

Use descriptive language to create vivid images in the reader’s mind, and leave them wanting more. By following these techniques, you can craft a short story description that is engaging, creative, and leaves your readers eager to dive into your story.

Showcase the Author’s Style

Highlighting the author’s unique style is crucial to crafting an engaging short story. Readers are drawn to stories with distinct voices that set them apart from other works. So, how can you showcase an author’s style in a short story description?

First, focus on capturing tone. Is the author’s style witty, dark, or whimsical? Use descriptive language to convey the tone and mood of the story. This will give readers a taste of what to expect and leave them wanting more.

Second, highlight motifs. Motifs are recurring themes or symbols that are meaningful to the story. By mentioning motifs, you can give readers a glimpse into what the story is really about. Is the story about love, loss, or finding oneself? Including motifs in your description can help readers connect with the story on a deeper level.

Finally, use language that is vivid and imaginative. This will help readers envision the story and become invested in it. By following these guidelines, you can create a short story description that showcases the author’s unique style and draws readers in.

Crafting a compelling short story description requires creativity and innovation. To truly engage your audience, you must find new ways to present ideas and concepts. One way to accomplish this is by using figurative language, such as metaphors and similes. These devices allow you to compare the story to something else, creating a connection that readers can relate to.

Additionally, consider using sensory language to create a vivid image in readers’ minds. Using words that appeal to the senses can help readers feel as though they are part of the story.

Crafting a short story description that showcases an author’s unique style requires careful consideration and attention to detail. By capturing tone, highlighting motifs, and using vivid language, you can create a description that draws readers in and leaves them wanting more. Remember to stay innovative and creative, using figurative and sensory language to create a connection with your audience. With these techniques, you can craft a short story description that truly stands out.

Test Your Description

Now that you’ve learned how to showcase an author’s style, it’s time to put your skills to the test. Engaging your audience with a short story requires more than just a captivating plot and well-developed characters. You also need to refine your language to capture the essence of the story and evoke emotion in your readers.

To test your description, ask yourself the following questions: Does it paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind? Does it capture the mood and tone of the story? Is it concise yet descriptive?

By answering these questions, you can refine your language and ensure that your description engages your audience. Remember, the goal is to make your readers feel as though they’re a part of the story, so take the time to craft a description that truly captures the essence of the tale.

You’ve just learned some of the best techniques for crafting engaging descriptions of short stories. By starting with a hook, using vivid language, keeping it short and sweet, showcasing the author’s style, and testing your description, you can capture your reader’s attention and encourage them to read on.

Remember, a well-crafted description can make all the difference in whether a reader decides to give your story a chance, even if the title or cover art doesn’t immediately grab their attention.

So take the time to craft a description that showcases the heart of your story and entices readers to take a chance on your work.

Recommended Reading...

Why short stories are important for readers and writers alike, why do authors use short stories the advantages of this genre, why are short stories so hard to write understanding the challenges, what is a novelette exploring the short story genre.

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7 steps: how to write a story description.

7 Steps: How to Write a Story Description

  • Creating A Logline, Or One Sentence Summary, For Your Story  
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How To Write A Pain-Free Story Description, Quickly.

I. who is the main character, ii. what is unique about the main character what is their special gift what can they do that no one else is able to has their special gift marked them in some way, iii. what is the initial setting, iv. what is the main character’s initial goal, v. what person or force opposes the main character achieving his/her initial goal, vi. what is the story goal, vii. description of antagonist., viii. positive stakes: if the main character achieves his/her goal what would the consequences be for the main character, the main character’s allies, the antagonist, the antagonist’s allies and the world in general, ix. negative stakes: if the antagonist achieves his/her goal, what would the consequences be for the main character, the main character’s allies, the antagonist, the antagonist's allies and the world in general, x. break into act two., xi. the special world of the adventure. , xii. complication/antagonist/pinch point., xiii. test and trials., putting the description together.

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How to Write a Good, Descriptive Story

Last Updated: September 15, 2023 Approved

This article was co-authored by Celena Hathaway . Celena Hathaway is an English & Creative Writing Teacher at Cornerstone Schools of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama. She specializes in entry-level creative writing, such as fundamental poetry and fiction short story techniques, and 8th-grade-level grammar and reading. She earned her B.S.E. in Secondary Education and B.A. in English from Samford University. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 86% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 131,492 times.

Writing is a very popular art. In writing, you can express yourself through different passions, feelings, and expressions. Being descriptive is important in writing. How do you make your writing descriptive? See step 1 to get started.

Getting Started

Step 1 Be sure to have a great intro.

Using Descriptive Language

Step 1 Start your story in a way that grabs the reader's attention.

  • Don't start with exciting action only to segue immediately into several pages of backstory and exposition. The reader will be irritated that their interest was piqued only to slog through the boring parts.
  • For example: if you start your story with Mary and the explosion, continue with that, without going into pages of description of what the forest looked like and what it was doing there and what Mary looked like and Mary's entire history. Instead, get on with what Mary is doing in the forest and what caused the explosion.

Step 2 Evoke your reader's five senses.

  • For example, describe Mary feeling the burning heat of the explosion, have it singe her hair so that she can smell burning hair. Have Mary choke on the acrid smoke and cough. Have Mary's ears ring from the force and the noise of the explosion (and this can be a plot point, for example having Mary get captured, because she couldn't hear her attackers over the ringing in her ears).
  • Of course, only describe the things that are important to your story. You can do a little setting of the stage, giving the reader a sense of what the area looks like, but don't overwhelm your reader with every single little detail. Trust your reader to have some imagination.

Step 3 Describe your character(s)' thoughts and emotions.

  • For example: Mary might be feeling horrified by the explosion in the forest, because she's dedicated her life to preserving forest habitat, or because one of her friends is near the center of the explosion. Maybe she's devastated because of the explosion, or angry. Or horrified, devastated, and angry.
  • Reflect how their thoughts and emotions change over the course of the story. You don't want a static character who does not change at all, neither do you want a character who changes in completely nonsensical ways. For example: Mary might start of the story ashamed that she did not stand up against the people who created the explosion, and over the course of the narrative develop strength and courage that allows her to defeat the bad guys. [5] X Research source

Step 4 Show don't tell.

  • For example: instead of saying "Mary was angry about the explosion" you could say something like "Mary's hands curled into fists as she saw the smoking ruin that had once been her beautiful forest. She hardly felt the sharp points of her fingernails digging into her palms. Everything that she had worked so hard to maintain, was gone. It wasn't only the acrid smoke that made her eyes water."

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Don't be too descriptive. For example, "I reached with my left hand for the butter knife in the right section of the silverware drawer by the refrigerator with the red magnet of Santa Claus on it." That's too much. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • However, you don't want to under-explain. "Her hair was black." This is boring! Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Characters don't have to be the only thing in your story that moves. Try thinking of creative ways to attribute movement to inanimate objects. Add flowers dancing in the joy of rain, clapping their leaves like a person would hands, straining upwards to catch each drop. Make their pale skirts sweep the floor back and forth, even if the wearer may be standing still. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

For example: "The further she walked into the woods, the more the air was thick,

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Write a Descriptive Paragraph

Expert Interview

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Thanks for reading our article! If you’d like to learn more about writing, check out our in-depth interview with Celena Hathaway .

  • ↑ https://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/descriptive_writing
  • ↑ https://jerryjenkins.com/how-to-end-a-story/
  • ↑ https://io9.gizmodo.com/how-to-write-descriptive-passages-without-boring-the-re-1479764153
  • ↑ https://www.livewritethrive.com/2015/06/24/how-fiction-writers-can-show-emotions-in-their-characters-in-effective-ways/
  • ↑ https://www.time4writing.com/writing-resources/descriptive-essay/

About This Article

Celena Hathaway

A good descriptive story can totally transport a reader. To write one, you’ll need to start with an exciting introduction that pulls readers into the story. For example, you might start with a sentence like, “Mary dropped to the ground as an explosion tore through the forest.” Try to use descriptive language throughout the story that evokes your reader’s 5 senses. Besides descriptions of the scene, you’ll also want to describe your character’s thoughts and emotions. For example, you could say “Mary was horrified by the silence she heard following the explosion.” Finally, as you're wrapping up, make sure to include a catchy and unique ending to make your story more memorable. To learn how to show character development, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Writing Forward

Writing Description in Fiction

by Melissa Donovan | Mar 16, 2023 | Story Writing | 8 comments

description in fiction

Tips for writing description in fiction.

Today’s post includes excerpts from What’s the Story? Building Blocks for Fiction Writing , chapter eight: “Description and Exposition.” Enjoy!

Without description, readers wouldn’t be able to visualize what’s happening in a story. We need to see the setting and the characters. Because there are no visuals in prose, writers must use words to describe a story’s visual elements in a way that helps readers see the story playing out in their minds.

Let’s consider a description of a room:

There is a bookshelf in one corner and a chair in the opposite corner. There’s a couch and a coffee table in the center of the room. A piano sits in front of a large picture window. The walls are wood paneled and covered with paintings.

This description may give you a sense of the room, but it’s boring. Readers are likely to drift off if a description continues like this for too long.

What’s wrong with this description? Almost every sentence begins with “There is” or some variation of it, and most of the verbs are various forms of to be . Although it’s useful to draft descriptions in this manner, these sentences need to be reworked so that they hold the reader’s attention:

A massive oak desk sat below a large picture window, beside a shelf overflowing with books. Hardcovers, paperbacks, and binders were piled on the tiled floor in messy stacks.

Note the use of active verbs, such as overflowing , and descriptive adjectives, like messy . Good narrative description makes the setting more vivid by using language that engages the reader.

Effective description is often achieved not by inserting long and specific descriptions but by making thoughtful decisions about what to include and what to leave out. When a narrative brings readers into a room, it doesn’t need to cite every object in the room and explain in minute detail how the room is laid out. The goal is to give readers a sense of the room. That is best achieved by providing readers just enough description that they can see key details and trusting that their imaginations will fill in the rest.

Description also determines how immersed readers get in the story. We could describe the sand on a beach as white and sprawling in every direction as far as the eye could see. But if the character is walking on the sand, the reader will become more immersed when the sand is hot, grainy, and gritty against the character’s feet. When description is visceral—when we can feel it—it comes alive.

Description can be used to engage readers’ five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Average descriptions focus on sight, explaining what something looks like. But descriptions that include the other senses will arouse the readers’ senses. This is why dining scenes work remarkably well in prose. We can use description to set a scene in which characters are cooking a meal: the warmth from the oven; bright, fresh vegetables steaming on the stove; the sound of a sizzling skillet; the smell of spiced chicken frying; the sound of an ice-cold bottle of beer cracking open. The readers’ mouths will water as the characters enjoy their spicy, zesty fajitas.

The most important descriptions are those that are essential to the story. Have you ever read a story that offered detailed descriptions of mundane items and locations and then skimmed over the descriptive details of story elements that really mattered? This causes readers to struggle to imagine the story. For example, if a character has been in a terrible accident and is getting bandages removed for the first time, there should be some description of the wounds or scars as opposed to a description of the hospital room. This helps the readers focus on the character (and therefore the story) as opposed to a generic room. By adding description that references the smell of antiseptic and the slick, cold texture of the doctor’s latex gloves, the scene becomes sensory and visceral.

Want to learn more about writing description in fiction? Pick up a copy of What’s the Story? Building Blocks for Fiction Writing .

whats the story building blocks for fiction writing

Thank you for that most helpful and insightful post. I will certainly look harder at my descriptions in the light of what you have said. Are they boring or do they invoke the senses and a sense of place?

Melissa Donovan

Thanks, Vivienne. I’m glad you found this post helpful. Descriptions come naturally to some, but I like to review mine carefully to make them as interesting as possible.

Idowu Akinwande

Thank you for this piece. It’s an interesting read.

You’re welcome!

Carol Fillmore

This is a great article on writing description. It’s flipped how I’ve been approaching description when writing. Thank you so much!

Thanks for your kind words!


Sitting on my veranda, overlooking the beautiful horizon where sunset was melting into dark blue velvet, I felt sleepy and bored. I turned to my laptop and discovered your fascinating article about descriptions in fiction writing. Finally, something interesting and stimulating in my email! Thank you for providing great insight!

What a lovely compliment, Linda. Thanks so much. I’m glad you found this interesting.

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The Write Practice

Writing Descriptions: 3 Tips to Strengthen and Enliven Your Story’s Stilted Paragraphs

by J. D. Edwin | 0 comments

Do you find that the beautiful story in your head doesn’t always come out the way you want? Are your unique characters dragged down by a list of stilted writing descriptions?

story write description

Maybe they sound something like this:

He saw her across the room. Her hair was honey brown and her lips were red. She wore a tight black dress and her shoes were expensive. She smoked a cigarette and blew smoke rings while leaning on the bar and drinking a gin and tonic. He usually wasn’t into women who smoked, but she was hard to resist.

After you write a description like this, you might think it sounds fine. It works. You can imagine what the protagonist sees, and yet something feels stiff. And because of this, you're looking for ways to enliven your writing descriptions. Here are a few simple tricks.

Vary Sentence Structure to Avoid a Monotonous Tone

A common mistake beginner writers make is writing description that follows the same sentence structure. This creates a never-ending sequence of noun-verb-description, noun-verb-description that can hinder your voice and style.

Just take a look at the sentence used in the example above. Notice how almost all of the sentences in the paragraph begin with “He” or “She” followed by a verb. Not only does this stifle the writing description's imagery, it’s boring.

It needs some structure-switch-up! 

By varying the length and structure of your sentences, alternating between long and short sentences, simple and complex, you can create a more engaging rhythm in your writing descriptions.

The trick here is that by varying your sentence structure, you can make the passage sound like music. Instead of stringing together lines that create a monotonous tone, varying structure creates a far more melodic (and pleasant) paragraph. 

Take this, for instance:

He saw her across the room. Her hair was honey brown and her lips were red. She wore a tight black dress and her shoes were expensive.

With varied sentence structure, it becomes this:

From across the room, she caught his eye. He blinked once, and then felt his feet glide towards hers like a moth sucked up by a flame. A rush of honey brown hair tumbled down her shoulders, draping over the black Fendi dress that clung to her like a second skin.

Use Vivid Writing Descriptions That Focus on Verbs

Memorable moments in stories need more than descriptions flavored with shapes and colors. Passages need comparisons, emotions, actions, and reactions that differentiate how bystanders react when they comment about Harry Potter's green eyes (that look like his mother's)—and how that response affects Harry.

A simple rule of thumb that strengthens writing descriptions is that verbs are far more powerful and memorable than adjectives or adverbs. Period.

When a writer's concentration is placed on verbs, they naturally trigger a reader's senses. For instance, you might change:

She smoked a cigarette and blew smoke rings while leaning on the bar and drinking a gin and tonic.

Instead of telling the reader about the cigarette being smoked, verbs can tickle one or more of the senses while describing the same action.

Focusing on verbs could make the above something more memorable, like this:

He watched her slide a cigarette out of her mouth and a thick smoke ring steamed from her lips. The bartender slid her a gin and tonic—same as his father used to drink. Warm and acidic, with hints of pine that always intrigued him until he tasted it.

Remember that rule of show, don't tell ?

Writing descriptions that focus on verbs instead of adjectives do exactly that—show the reader something more than flat, visual descriptions. Just make sure to change  up your writing descriptions, since this will also aid your sentence structure variance. 

For more on how to use effective verb descriptions, see How to Use Vivid Verbs to Bring Your Scenes to Life .

Add Perspective to Personalize the Scene 

Every person looks at something differently.

A Golden Delicious apple can tantalize one person and disgust another. Heather Mills next door might look at it and think about how it’s going to taste in an apple-cranberry pie whereas Hunter Smith considers how it would do as a replacement bowling ball in a game of kitchen bowling.

Perspective tells a lot about the person viewing the subject being described, which adds another layer of complexity to the description itself. 

Let's look back at the opening example.

In this paragraph, the narrator usually isn't  “ into women who smoked, but she was hard to resist. ” To emphasize this further, we could examine why he wasn't usually into women or how he couldn't resist her (more on how to revise using this tip below). 

To learn more about how to write with perspective, see Two Steps to Fix Flat Characters Using Voice and Personality .

Put It All Together

When you find your story becomes stiff, it’s possible your words aren't communicating your intent with the best writing descriptions. Knowing this is important.

A light and funny scene will read much differently than something dark and moody.  Not knowing this will probably create a paragraph bogged down by ambiguous, unmemorable, or redundant descriptions.

I've noticed this in my own writing when revisiting drafts for revisions. Using the tips mentioned in this post have helped me clean up my writing descriptions that don't work for ones that enliven my story with unique details. 

Revisiting my example at the beginning of this post is proof. Here's how I've revised it in a few different ways. (Review the example in the opening paragraph for a closer look at the exact differences.) 

Example One: Uses Complex Sentences and Vivid Descriptions 

From across the room, she caught his eye. He blinked once, and then felt his feet glide towards hers like a moth sucked up by a flame. A tumble of honey brown hair draped down her shoulders, similar to how the black Fendi dress clung to her chest and back like a second skin. He watched her slide a lit cigarette out of her mouth and a delicate smoke ring rose from her lips. The bartender slid her a gin and tonic—same as his father used to drink. Warm and acidic, with hints of pine that always intrigued him until he tasted it. He had no doubt she would kiss like a sailor and taste like an ashtray. And yet, he thought, maybe she would be worth it. 

Example Two: Uses Short, Simple Sentences and Basic Visual Descriptions

Tight dress. Red lips. He downed another drink. On most days he preferred blondes, but there was something special about this brunette. He watched her. Long painted fingers traced the rim of a gin and tonic. A half-smoked, lipstick-stained cigarette dangled out of her mouth. She would be hard. She would be dirty. She looked like tomorrow morning’s mistake. But tonight, she was perfect.

Bring Your Writing to Life

By varying sentence structure and making use of verbs and perspective, the passages above not only become more interesting than the original version, but more fluid and pleasing to the reader's ear—and other senses. 

Both ways improve the original with two different goals. The first is more complex and descriptive-heavy; the second is driven by shorter and more direct writing descriptions to present a somewhat sloppy exterior.

Keep in mind that neither is better than the other, because how you write your passage depends on what you want to communicate to the reader. Regardless of which you prefer, they’re both better than the paragraph without revisions. 

Overall, fluid writing is simply a matter of writing with a goal in mind (how do you want this scene to come off to the reader?) and adjusting the writing description so that it contains different sentence structures, a variety of verbs, and a clear perspective.

With practice, you’ll find that your stilted writing can come to life in no time at all.

What’s the biggest issue you face with writing descriptions? Share in the comments section .

Write a scene based on one of the following prompts (or come up with one of your own):

  • A student walks into a new classroom on their first day of school 
  • A person meets a blind date for the first time
  • A grandparent meets their new grandchild for the first time

Take fifteen minutes to write and focus on writing vivid descriptions through sentence structure, verb usage, and perspective. Don't forget to share your passages in the comments below for feedback! 

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J. D. Edwin

J. D. Edwin is a daydreamer and writer of fiction both long and short, usually in soft sci-fi or urban fantasy. Sign up for her newsletter for free articles on the writer life and updates on her novel, find her on Facebook and Twitter ( @JDEdwinAuthor ), or read one of her many short stories on Short Fiction Break literary magazine .

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Vivid story setting description: Examples and insights

Vivid story setting descriptions helps us anchor a story’s action in place. Here are story setting description examples that reveal the varied functions of setting description:

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Story setting description examples | Now Novel

1. Use setting description to highlight characters’ turning points

What characters do in a place is telling about their personality. A change of setting, too, can reveal an important moment of change in a character’s life:

Example of a watershed moment setting description

In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000), Archie Jones’s first encounter with his future wife is in a post-war cafe. The details of the setting reveal the life-affirming pleasure romantic interest brings after World War II:

The first spring of 1946, he had stumbled out of the darkness of war and into a Florentine coffee house, where he was served by a waitress truly like the sun: Ophelia Diagilo, dressed all in yellow, spreading warmth and the promise of sex as she passed him a frothy cappuccino. Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000), p. 8

The simple cafe description is brief but effective. All the details of setting suggest renewal and rebirth after the war’s ‘darkness’. It’s the ‘first spring’, and his future wife is dressed in summery yellow. The ‘frothiness’ of the cappuccino even has a fecund quality (in ‘promising’ sex).

Here, setting conveys Archie’s optimism in a watershed moment – leaving behind the horrors of war for new post-war possibilities. Use setting description similarly to highlight characters’ emotional states and key transitions.

Setting description example: Buzz Aldrin on Neil Armstrong calling the moon 'beautiful'

2. Reveal characters through their homes and haunts

The places where characters spend much of their time reveal much, too. A home or a favourite restaurant , for example, may reveal characters’ connections, passions, and more:

Setting description example in which home reveals character

In Kent Haruf’s novella Our Souls at Night (2015) he explores the intimacy that grows between an elderly man and woman who start having sleepovers for company. Here, Haruf describes the first time the man, Louis, is left alone in Addie’s home (the woman):

While she was out of the room he looked at the pictures on her dresser and the ones hanging on the walls. Family pictures with Carl on their wedding day, on the church steps somewhere. The two of them in the mountains beside a creek. A little black and white dog. He knew Carl a little bit, a decent man, pretty calm, he sold crop insurance and other kinds of insurance to people all over Holt County twenty years ago, had been elected mayor of the town for two terms. Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night (2015), p. 11

Seeing Addie’s photographs via Louis’ eyes, we get a sense of her and her late husband’s relationship, and Carl’s character, too. Description of Addie’s home supplies background, yet without it being an info dump – it is relevant to the action (Louis’ being left alone and looking around).

Because Louis and Addie have already at this point discussed having sleepovers, Louis’ focus is on other men in Addie’s life, too, and he has some anxiety around them. After the above description, we read:

Louis never knew him well. He was glad now that he hadn’t.

This suggests unease around the boundaries of relationships, of ‘who belongs to whom’. The photographs in Addie’s home help to convey the uncertainty and newness of Louis’ and Addie’s arrangement.

Mark Twain quote - storytelling and setting | Now Novel

3. Build tense or suspenseful situations

Many great setting description examples create suspense or a sense of urgency. Take for example the following from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees (1990):

Example of setting description adding tension/urgency

Kingsolver’s novel tells the story of a young woman from Kentucky named Taylor Greer who unexpectedly becomes a mother to an abandoned baby. At this point, she has recently been handed the girl at a gas stop on her route west:

My car has no actual way of keeping track of miles, but I believe it must have been fifty or more before we came to a town. It was getting cold with no windows, and the poor little thing must have been freezing but didn’t make a peep. Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees (1990), p. 19.

The simple description of the windowless car creates a sense of tension and urgency, as we realize Taylor’s worries are greater than her own needs now. She could perhaps shiver her way on, but with a baby to consider she needs to find warmer shelter. The setting description thus immediately lends her arrival in the town urgency as well as relief.

Think of ways setting may affect your characters’ choices and needs and increase (or reduce) their intensity. These small moments create push and pull, forward momentum and ease, keeping characters’ paths dynamic and interesting.

4. Describe setting to create tone and mood

Setting description also helps to establish tone and mood. Is the world your characters inhabit brimming with life and joy or a desolate wasteland? Is it a claustrophobic cityscape or an expansive rural haven? Great setting description conveys:

  • How places feel (whether they’re relaxing, frightening, intriguing, ominous, bleak, etc.)
  • What the character of a place is (place, like a person, may seem friendly, severe, harsh, warm, inviting, and so forth)

Setting description examples that create tone and mood

The opening to Mervyn Peake’s gothic epic The Gormenghast Trilogy conveys a strong sense of the dark majesty of Gormenghast castle:

Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow. Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan (1946), p.7

The ornate style of Peake’s prose here mirrors the ornate, ‘time-eaten’ architecture of the fortress. Peake’s descriptive language here is full of images that suggest brute physical strength. The tower is an ‘echoing throat’, the masonry resembles ‘knuckled fists’. The word choice (e.g. the tower resembling a ‘mutilated’ finger) creates spooky eeriness.

To recap, you may use descriptions like the above story setting description examples illustrate to:

  • Draw attention to changes and turning points in characters’ lives: Winter giving way to spring, war giving way to peacetime.
  • Reveal characters through the places they frequent (and what these places’ details tell your reader about them).
  • Build tense or urgent aspects in a character’s situation: Like Taylor Greer rushing to find a warm place for her new baby, how might your characters’ environs shape or necessitate their next moves?
  • Create tone and mood: How do the describing words you choose to describe places build towards an atmosphere?

Read more descriptive writing examples and tips in our complete guide to description.

Get help developing your story settings. Use the Now Novel story dashboard to outline your core setting and creating additional story locations by answering easy step-by-step prompts.

Related Posts:

  • Story setting ideas: 6 effective setting examples and tips
  • Elements of setting: How to create a vivid world
  • Novel settings: 7 tips to get setting description right

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Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

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Writing a story description

Writing a story description

The description of your story is your elevator pitch to every reader. You don't get the chance to have a personal conversation with everyone who opens your work, so you have to make sure your description draws in your target audience and gives them a brief understanding of what's in store when they scroll to the first page. This is your big shot to impress, so make it your best! After all, stories with descriptions get on average 108x more reads.

Nail your story description on the first try with these tips

Say it in 100 words.

Anyone who reads your story is making an investment of their time. Make that investment worth it by giving them something to care about right off the bat. Readers like to know what they're getting into from the get-go—taking them for the ride of their lives is what the rest of the story is for. 

Be distinct 

What is your story's hook? What's the one thing that's different from every other story on Wattpad? Everyone is writing a story that is special and brilliant in its own way. Make yours shine!

Float by Kate Marchant

Take Kate Marchant's Float , for example. 

The hook: In order to fit in during her summer visit to a beachside town, Waverly must take swimming lessons from Blake, the moody (but gorgeous) lifeguard next door.

The full description: Seventeen-year-old Waverly Lyons is from Alaska. She doesn't do sun. But after her divorced parents can't agree on who gets to have her for the summer, Waverly gets shipped off to Holden, Florida, to spend a couple months with her aunt, Rachel. There's one minor hiccup: Blake Hamilton, Rachel's seventeen-year-old neighbor. He's athletic, outgoing, arrogant, tan, and pretty much Waverly's exact opposite. She's eager to avoid him at all costs, hoping to fit in with the other kids in Holden without drawing too much attention to herself. But when Blake discovers that Waverly has been hiding the rather embarrassing secret that she can't swim, he does the unthinkable: He offers to teach her.

Include a tagline 

If your story was a movie, what would the trailer or poster say? If it was a new product, what would the commercial promise? Think about a line that will tease your readers and leave them wanting more.

Through my Window Netflix poster tagline

Here are some examples from popular Wattpad stories:

"Sometimes it's better to be left in the dark than blinded by the light"— After by Anna Todd

"It all started with the Wifi password…"— Through My Window by Ariana Godoy 

"Her body didn't matter. It shouldn't matter, in the grand scheme of things."— Book Keeper's Heart by Ananya Meiss

"I am a work of art. My body is a masterpiece."— Big Boned by Jo Watson

"Love is right beneath the surface."— Float by Kate Marchant

"There's only one way out."— Belle Morte by Bella Higgin

"Some secrets are best left forgotten."— Blackout by K. Monroe 

"Everyone has a limit."— Gaslight by Rachael Rose 

Write a logline 

A logline is a quick summary of the who, what, where, and why of your story. It covers the basics and leaves us with a hook. A logline will let readers know the central conflict of your story and should include an emotional hook to get readers interested. Keep loglines concise—a few sentences will do! 

Never Kiss Your Roommate cover


Never Kiss Your Roommate by Philline Harms: Falling in love with your roommate is never a good idea, but when Evelyn has to share a room with the mysterious and alluring Noelle, tension soon turns into a dangerous attraction.

Add content warnings 

Wattpad's rating system is sorted into Everyone and Mature (17+). When it comes to mature stories, we have thorough content guidelines in place to help you properly rate your story. But stories are nuanced, and adding specific warnings to your description will attract the readers you want, while avoiding potentially surprising others in a negative way. Adding content warnings for things like graphic violence or sexual content to your stories is a responsible and courteous way to categorize your work. Learn how to write a content warning .

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Discover the Simple Trick for Creating Vivid Story Descriptions

Discover the Simple Trick for Creating Vivid Story Descriptions

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This week’s video offers a super-easy rule of thumb for always finding the best and most evocative details for your story descriptions.

Video Transcript:

In some ways, story descriptions are kind of the bane of the writing life. Descriptions of character and setting are integral to bringing to life any story. But there’s also a ton of strictures put upon descriptions. Don’t over-describe , don’t begin with descriptions, never use details that aren’t pertinent to the story.

But you do have to find details that are vivid and unique in a way that will bring the visuals of your story into three-dimensional color in your readers’ imaginations.

We could do a video on every single one of those things. But today I want to talk about an easy trick for creating vivid story descriptions thanks to one detail. Now what that detail is will depend on whatever it is you’re actually describing. Sadly, I can’t help you there, because that’s what writing’s all about.

But I can give you an awesome rule of thumb for finding the detail, and that is this: All you gotta do is focus on the details that aren’t obvious, because readers will always fill in the obvious blanks.

For example, I was reading a story recently that featured a stairway in a rundown house. The book talked about the character putting his hand on the banister. Now if you and I were writing this, our first instinct for describing that banister might be the word “rickety,” as in “he put his hand on the rickety banister.”

And why not? “Rickety” is a good word.

But it’s also the obvious word. There’s a reason it was the first word to pop to our minds. It was probably the first word to pop to the author’s mind, but it wasn’t the word he used in the end.

Instead, he wrote about a “splintery banister.” This is every whit as evocative as “rickety,” and the fact that it’s a little more unique means that it not only introduces a new aspect of this banister, it also implies rickety. It’s two for the price of one! If the banister is splintery, then readers are easily able to infer that it’s also rickety.

In one thoughtful word choice, the author takes his story descriptions to the next level—and so can you!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What unique detail have you included in your story descriptions lately? Tell me in the comments!

Discover the Simple Trick for Creating Vivid Story Descriptions

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K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel , Structuring Your Novel , and Creating Character Arcs . A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

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I’m accused of being very visual. Oh, wait; that was you! ;p

I take my cue from Hemingway, of course. 😉 But I doubt I’m in the same league as him.

But how to develop that sensitivity to know just what to put in and what to leave out?

In this, I fly by the seat of pants and hope that I’m getting it reasonably right.

One thing I’m really good at is making some of my characters faceless in the first draft. I used to call them shadow people because they exist on the fringes of a scene and rarely stepped into the light.

Come the second draft, if I hadn’t made a sketch of what the character looked like in my minds eye (the first time) in my trusty notebook, I was hard pressed to give them a new face. :/

Faces are a weak area…

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Finding the balance will always be a largely instinctive thing. The better our story senses, the better we will be at reflexively knowing what works and what doesn’t. But a good editor always comes in handy too!

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Descriptions always been my weakest point, I seemingly always forget to put it in or when I do it’s very general, definitely some advice to help out.

It’s fine to write a very sparse first draft. If description doesn’t come naturally to you yet, you can always just skip it while you’re getting the bones of the story out of your system. Then you can focus on it as you go back through in revisions.

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I like James Alan Gardner’s advice that “A descriptive passage is the story of a character’s encounter with a person, place, or thing.” Give that encounter a beginning, middle and end and that will also do double duty to reveal character.

Ah, that’s great! Excellent way to look at it. Because if it’s *not* an “encounter,” why is it even in the book?

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That is such a cool advice. Thanks for mentioning it 🙂

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I like the idea of describing the not-so-obvious and implied adjectives. Never thought of it in that way before.

Yep, the key to busting cliches is always looking beyond them.

What I try to do is trying to describe the new element with a sense that isn’t the first one popping to mind. So for example, in the opening of my nevel, I describe a sound with a visual description, I mean, as if I could see that sound instead of hearing it.

Well, I don’t do this all the time, or readers would be completely confused, but I always try to do it when I want the reader to really notice an element of the story, being that a character, or a place, or an action.

Very smart. We too often neglect other senses in favor of sight and sound.

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Great video. Really helpful. Description is also an area that I find challenging. I am always afraid of rendering the prose cumbersome by over describing things. This clarifies things a bit. Thanks.

When in doubt, I always recommend going ahead and over-describing in the first draft. It’s best just to get it all out of our systems, then go back and edit for the best effect.

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Wonderful video.

Noah Lukeman’s book, The Plot Thickens helped me lots with this advice. But you put it simply.

I race through my first draft, not worrying about writing clichées. When rewriting I try to look beyond the obvious.

Sol Stein’s book Stein on Writing also helped me realize this. JazzFeathers did what Stein suggests, using another of the five senses to describe what would obviously be heard or seen.

Yes! I love the five senses trick. Smell is my favorite, since it’s so underused and so evocative.

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Yes! I’m a big fan of small, succinct descriptions. Four or five words, planned well, can often sketch a scene just as vividly as fifty.

Whups, that was supposed to be a reply to the article, not the comment thread. >.>

Agree – and usually *better* than fifty! Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that.

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Excellent advice, thank you. I regularly get good feedback from my beta readers on my descriptions, but I think this simple tweak could lift my stuff to a better level. Much appreciated!

There’s always room for improvement! That’s the great challenge of writing.

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One of my characters is about to slide on a pair of boots…I have him knock them together to displace a sleepy scorpion.

Great! That not only illustrates the scene (and probably the character), but also totally brings the setting to life.

[…] But I can give you an awesome rule of thumb for finding the detail, and that is this: All you gotta do is focus on the details that aren’t obvious, because readers will …read more […]

[…] Discover the Simple Trick for Creating Vivid Story Descriptions – K.M. Weiland […]

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Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Posted on Dec 21, 2018

Character Descriptions: How To Write Them (in 3 Steps)

Character descriptions — those key passages that describe what a character actually looks like — are almost as crucial to a written story as the characters themselves. If you’re writing a novel, you’ve probably created an awesome, vivid protagonist in your head: motivated , quirky , maybe even memorably named . But how do you convey all that to a reader without depleting the magic?

Writing strong character descriptions actually requires quite a bit of finesse. If you skimp on descriptive passages, you run the risk of leaving your readers with forgettable characters. But if you get too descriptive, you wind up leaving no room for the reader’s own imagination.

UmOfabuW_TM Video Thumb

So what does it take to strike the right balance? We’ll tell you! Here are three cardinal rules on how to write character descriptions without falling off that tightrope.

1. Choose your words carefully

When writing character descriptions, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. After all, this is the first time you’re introducing a character you’ve created from the ground up .

But just because you know everything about them, doesn’t mean the reader needs to. Character descriptions aren’t about doling out every detail in lavish language — they’re about succinct characterization. Here are a few tips on how to achieve just that.

Be descriptive in your language

We’re talking about character descriptions, after all — it’s quite literally in the name. When describing a character that you see clearly in your mind, it’s easy to simply give a laundry list of attributes: she had black hair, brown eyes, and freckles. But that tells us nothing about the character and is frankly a waste of words.

Sure, your protagonist might have brown eyes. But so does half the world’s population! And characterization is all about showing what makes a character unique.

Sometimes, this can be done through word choice alone. Take this example from Huckleberry Finn :

“There warn’t no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man’s white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl – a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white.”

From this passage, we clearly understand how Huck’s father looks, as surely as if Twain had simply written, “He was white.” But through the use of figurative language and excellent word choice, another image sticks in our head: that of a sickly, grotesque drunk. Bonus points for the use of “tree-toad” and “fish-belly” — descriptors that match the tone of the adventure novel.



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Use adjectives sparingly

Jonathan Safran Foer Everything Is Illuminated Character Descriptions

Another problem with a sentence like “She had brown eyes” is that brown simply isn’t a very interesting word. When it comes to describing something, the same is true for many adjectives; which are to descriptions as adverbs are to verbs . In other words, they may appear to be more descriptive, but they often just bog down your sentences.

Same goes for verbs. Much has been made about the banality of the verb “to be” in literature. Which would you prefer: “She had brown eyes,” or, “Her brown eyes pierced through my own”? Use forceful verbs to illuminate more about your character. When it comes to character descriptions, every word counts.

However, keep in mind that overly descriptive words like these can easily turn cliché. Ultimately, a phrase like, “He had a prosaic, pedestrian face” may pale in comparison to a more simply but potent description, like this one from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated :

“He did not look like anything special at all.”

Use descriptions themselves sparingly

When introducing a character, it’s best not to dedicate three whole chapters to an exhaustive physical explanation and backstory. After all, this isn’t Moby-Dick .

So as you’re painting a picture of your character, do two important things: 1) focus on a few key characteristics at a time , and 2) make sure to spread your descriptions out across the book . If we’re told every detail of every character’s face all at once, they’ll all end up blending together. But if we’re distinctly told about the woman with ears like a rabbit or the man with a slightly larger left nostril? We’ll remember them for the whole novel.

Also keep in mind that word choice is important, but so are the things you’re describing with those words. Hair, skin, and eye color — these are all characteristics that, ironically, don’t really say anything about what characters are like. That’s why, next up, we’ll discuss what characteristics you should be covering in your character descriptions.

2. Be specific

Remember, we don’t need to know every single physical detail of every person in a book. In fact, since reading is a non-visual medium, many readers prefer to fill in the blanks themselves.

Good descriptions tend to be brief but evocative. So choose two or three distinct, specific attributes to describe and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination. Here are some ideas on what those attributes might be.



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Facial expressions

Facial attributes are one thing: anyone can have a big nose, so that tells us nothing substantial about a character. On the other hand, facial expressions speak volumes. Like this example from Lord of the Flies :

“His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness.”

The way they carry themselves

Body language is key to understanding other people, so it stands to reason that it’s key to understanding characters, too. Take this description from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible , which describes a character through posture and mannerisms alone:

“Mama BekwaTataba stood watching us — a little jet-black woman. Her elbows stuck out like wings, and a huge white enameled tub occupied the space above her head, somewhat miraculously holding steady while her head moved in quick jerks to the right and left.”

Their stuff

Bret Eaton Ellis American Psycho Character Descriptions

In his popular novel American Psycho , Bret Eaton Ellis showcases Patrick Bateman's vapidity and narcissism through descriptions of the titular character's designer clothing. You can tell a lot about a person from their possessions — whether it’s clothing, cars, houses, or merely the contents of their purse. “He was a superficial sociopath” succinctly describes the extent of Patrick Bateman’s character development in the novel, but a passage like this shows it so much better:

“But there are also things that the average person would think are nice that I've done to celebrate the holiday, items I've bought Jean and had delivered to her apartment this morning: Castellini cotton napkins from Bendel's, a wicker chair from Jenny B. Goode, a taffeta table throw from Barney's, a vintage chain-mail-vent purse and a vintage sterling silver dresser set from Macy's, a white pine whatnot from Conran's, an Edwardian nine-carat-gold "gate" bracelet from Bergdorfs and hundreds upon hundreds of pink and white roses.”

Just be sure extensive descriptions of clothing don’t fall into the bad fanfiction category . (Although, there is good fanfiction too.)

Their actions

You know how actions speak louder than words? That’s truer than ever when it comes to describing your novel’s cast.

In one sense, actions can illustrate physical characteristics in a pretty basic way: “She ran her hand through her hair, accidentally revealing the mole on her forehead she’d always kept hidden behind her bangs.”

But you can also learn as much about fictional characters from their actions as you can about real people. Toni Morrison displays clear knowledge of this in her novel Jazz , introducing the character Violet by recounting a story about her, rather than simply telling what she looks like.

“I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going. When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face they threw her to the floor and out of the church. She ran, then, through all that snow, and when she got back to her apartment she took the birds from their cages and set them out the windows to freeze or fly, including the parrot that said, ‘I love you.’”



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3. Don’t always be specific

Yeah, okay — the irony here isn’t lost on us . But while giving distinct details is important to character descriptions, so is knowing when concrete descriptions aren’t needed. Words, after all, are not limited to describing physical things. So don’t limit your prose, either.

Be abstract

Neil Gaiman Neverwhere Character Descriptions

Feel free to stretch the boundaries of what you’re describing and how you’re describing it. Rather than simply pointing out concrete characteristics or actions, feel free to describe abstractions, like this passage from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere :

“Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing alike.”

Or, describe physical characteristics in an abstract way — that is, use similes and metaphors. In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol , Dickens does not describe Scrooge as a Christmas-hating miser. Instead, Scrooge in this Christmas book is:

“Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

Whether you’re describing yourself to a friend or a friend is describing you to someone else, it’s very unlikely either of you would give a painstaking, perfectly objective account. Biases exist in every aspect of life, so it’s okay to be biased in character descriptions, too.

If a first person narrator is describing themselves, they might comment on their own attractiveness, like Humbert Humbert in Lolita :

“I was, and still am, despite mes malheurs, an exceptionally handsome male; slow-moving, tall, with soft dark hair and a gloomy but all the more seductive cast of demeanor.”

Or you could have one character describe another, which illuminates the attributes of the latter and the perception of the former. Take, for example, this particularly scathing description of one person by another from Jodi Taylor’s The Nothing Girl :

“The only talents he possessed were delusions of adequacy.”

This sentence succinctly describes a not-quite-self-aware underachiever. But it also illustrates a narrator with a not-so-objective opinion of him.


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Show, don’t tell

Yup. The golden rule of writing applies here as well. At the end of the day, no matter what you decide to reveal to your audience, the most important aspect of character descriptions is how you reveal it. Regardless of how special, unique, or honest-to-god awesome your protagonist is, a reader forced to trudge through page after page of intensive description will find any character boring.

Instead, think of how we learn things about other people in real life. Very rarely does the color of our eyes or the shape of our nose describe who we are. We don’t tell everything there is to know about each other — we show it, through our expressions, perceptions, actions, preferences, and even our stuff. Apply that same rule to your character descriptions, and your characters (and readers) will thank you for it.

Are there any character descriptions that stand out to you? Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments below!

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  • How to write a descriptive essay | Example & tips

How to Write a Descriptive Essay | Example & Tips

Published on July 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.

A descriptive essay gives a vivid, detailed description of something—generally a place or object, but possibly something more abstract like an emotion. This type of essay , like the narrative essay , is more creative than most academic writing .

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Table of contents

Descriptive essay topics, tips for writing descriptively, descriptive essay example, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about descriptive essays.

When you are assigned a descriptive essay, you’ll normally be given a specific prompt or choice of prompts. They will often ask you to describe something from your own experience.

  • Describe a place you love to spend time in.
  • Describe an object that has sentimental value for you.

You might also be asked to describe something outside your own experience, in which case you’ll have to use your imagination.

  • Describe the experience of a soldier in the trenches of World War I.
  • Describe what it might be like to live on another planet.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to describe something more abstract, like an emotion.

If you’re not given a specific prompt, try to think of something you feel confident describing in detail. Think of objects and places you know well, that provoke specific feelings or sensations, and that you can describe in an interesting way.

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story write description

The key to writing an effective descriptive essay is to find ways of bringing your subject to life for the reader. You’re not limited to providing a literal description as you would be in more formal essay types.

Make use of figurative language, sensory details, and strong word choices to create a memorable description.

Use figurative language

Figurative language consists of devices like metaphor and simile that use words in non-literal ways to create a memorable effect. This is essential in a descriptive essay; it’s what gives your writing its creative edge and makes your description unique.

Take the following description of a park.

This tells us something about the place, but it’s a bit too literal and not likely to be memorable.

If we want to make the description more likely to stick in the reader’s mind, we can use some figurative language.

Here we have used a simile to compare the park to a face and the trees to facial hair. This is memorable because it’s not what the reader expects; it makes them look at the park from a different angle.

You don’t have to fill every sentence with figurative language, but using these devices in an original way at various points throughout your essay will keep the reader engaged and convey your unique perspective on your subject.

Use your senses

Another key aspect of descriptive writing is the use of sensory details. This means referring not only to what something looks like, but also to smell, sound, touch, and taste.

Obviously not all senses will apply to every subject, but it’s always a good idea to explore what’s interesting about your subject beyond just what it looks like.

Even when your subject is more abstract, you might find a way to incorporate the senses more metaphorically, as in this descriptive essay about fear.

Choose the right words

Writing descriptively involves choosing your words carefully. The use of effective adjectives is important, but so is your choice of adverbs , verbs , and even nouns.

It’s easy to end up using clichéd phrases—“cold as ice,” “free as a bird”—but try to reflect further and make more precise, original word choices. Clichés provide conventional ways of describing things, but they don’t tell the reader anything about your unique perspective on what you’re describing.

Try looking over your sentences to find places where a different word would convey your impression more precisely or vividly. Using a thesaurus can help you find alternative word choices.

  • My cat runs across the garden quickly and jumps onto the fence to watch it from above.
  • My cat crosses the garden nimbly and leaps onto the fence to survey it from above.

However, exercise care in your choices; don’t just look for the most impressive-looking synonym you can find for every word. Overuse of a thesaurus can result in ridiculous sentences like this one:

  • My feline perambulates the allotment proficiently and capers atop the palisade to regard it from aloft.

An example of a short descriptive essay, written in response to the prompt “Describe a place you love to spend time in,” is shown below.

Hover over different parts of the text to see how a descriptive essay works.

On Sunday afternoons I like to spend my time in the garden behind my house. The garden is narrow but long, a corridor of green extending from the back of the house, and I sit on a lawn chair at the far end to read and relax. I am in my small peaceful paradise: the shade of the tree, the feel of the grass on my feet, the gentle activity of the fish in the pond beside me.

My cat crosses the garden nimbly and leaps onto the fence to survey it from above. From his perch he can watch over his little kingdom and keep an eye on the neighbours. He does this until the barking of next door’s dog scares him from his post and he bolts for the cat flap to govern from the safety of the kitchen.

With that, I am left alone with the fish, whose whole world is the pond by my feet. The fish explore the pond every day as if for the first time, prodding and inspecting every stone. I sometimes feel the same about sitting here in the garden; I know the place better than anyone, but whenever I return I still feel compelled to pay attention to all its details and novelties—a new bird perched in the tree, the growth of the grass, and the movement of the insects it shelters…

Sitting out in the garden, I feel serene. I feel at home. And yet I always feel there is more to discover. The bounds of my garden may be small, but there is a whole world contained within it, and it is one I will never get tired of inhabiting.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

If you’re not given a specific prompt for your descriptive essay , think about places and objects you know well, that you can think of interesting ways to describe, or that have strong personal significance for you.

The best kind of object for a descriptive essay is one specific enough that you can describe its particular features in detail—don’t choose something too vague or general.

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Caulfield, J. (2023, August 14). How to Write a Descriptive Essay | Example & Tips. Scribbr. Retrieved February 20, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/descriptive-essay/

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A.J. Finn had a spectacular rise and fall. Now he has a new novel.

Five years after a damning new yorker profile, the author of the blockbuster novel ‘the woman in the window’ returns with ‘end of story’.

story write description

If you’ve picked up a thriller in the past five years, you’ve probably seen A.J. Finn’s name on it. But not necessarily on the cover.

Since the publication of his blockbuster novel “ The Woman in the Window ” in 2018, Finn has become something of a serial blurber, adorning dozens of novels with his praise. “Loved every word,” he said of Richard Osman’s “The Thursday Murder Club.” He declared Alex Michaelides’s “The Silent Patient” “that rarest of beasts: the perfect thriller.” Of Nita Prose’s “ The Mystery Guest ” he gushed, “Wise and winning and altogether wondrous,” adding: “I was nearly hugging myself as I turned the pages of this splendid novel.”

Meanwhile, Finn’s next novel — the second part of the two-book, $2 million deal he made with William Morrow in 2016 — remained a work in progress. Expected to be published in 2020, the book, “ End of Story ,” finally lands in stores on Tuesday.

The question is: Will it be enough to save Finn’s reputation? Before answering, I need to explain the unexpected plot twist that preceded its publication.

“The Woman in the Window” was a smash hit that put its witty, camera-ready author on the cusp of celebrityhood. The book — a domestic suspense tale about an agoraphobic child psychologist who believes she has witnessed a murder — debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to sell millions of copies worldwide. Stephen King called it “delightful and chilling”; Louise Penny declared it a “tour de force.” Translated into more than 40 languages, the novel was made into a film with Amy Adams, Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore. It even inspired a spoof, “The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window,” a Netflix series starring Kristen Bell.

But something funny happened on the way to fame. In early 2019, an exposé in the New Yorker portrayed Finn, whose real name is Dan Mallory, as the kind of unreliable narrator you might find in an A.J. Finn novel. The article detailed a trail of less-than-true stories Mallory had told about himself over the years: that he had a doctorate from Oxford; that his mother had died of cancer; that he had a brain tumor; that his brother had died by suicide. Colleagues reported that during his decade as a book editor, Mallory used these struggles to elicit sympathy, further his career and vanish when things got awkward. At one point, when Mallory was working in New York at Morrow, he stopped coming into the office, a disappearance that was explained away by a series of emails from a mysterious sender claiming to be Mallory’s now-alive brother but sounding a lot like Mallory himself.

If the author of ‘Woman in the Window’ is a serial liar, can we still love his book?

Mallory eventually confessed to his fibs, sort of. Through a publicist’s statement to the New Yorker, he said that he had “severe bipolar II disorder,” which caused “delusional thoughts” and “memory problems.” Mallory’s psychiatrist told the magazine that the writer’s experience with his mother’s (real but not fatal) bout with breast cancer had contributed to his expressing “‘somatic complaints, fears, and preoccupations,’ including about cancer.” Mallory said he was “utterly terrified of what people would think of me if they knew” about his mental health problems. “Dissembling seemed the easier path. … I’m sorry to have taken, or be seen to have taken, advantage of anyone else’s goodwill.” Reaction to this expression of regret-cum-justification was mixed; some, including a letter-writer to the New Yorker with bipolar disorder , criticized the author for further stigmatizing the disease: “It was upsetting. … Mental illness does not make you a liar, a scammer, or a cheat.”

Given this heavy baggage, to consider “End of Story” on its own merits poses a challenge. Let’s try.

As a commercial suspense novel, “The Woman in the Window” — at least for the first 200 pages — is quite entertaining, if derivative for anyone who’s seen “Rear Window,” or any Hitchcock, for that matter. (Mallory also defended himself against accusations that he had plagiarized plot points of Sarah A. Denzil’s “Saving April,” with he and his agent saying Mallory’s book had been plotted before Denzil wrote her book, which Mallory never read.) Told in the present tense, in short sentences and chapters, the tale speeds along. At its center is the distraught, pill-popping child psychiatrist Anna Fox, who is not as she appears.

In the heyday of thrillers with unreliable narrators — see “The Girl on the Train” and “Gone Girl” — Anna was a master dupe. She loved her merlot (a detail mocked to brilliant comic effect in the Kristen Bell parody) and staring out the window (like Grace Kelly but in a ragged bathrobe) at her neighbors, who were up to something but not what she thought.

What the plot lacks in plausibility, it makes up for in the zippy immediacy of the writing, even when it patters on too long, collecting a few odd descriptions along the way, as when a phone rings: “My head swivels, almost back to front, like an owl, and the camera drops to my lap. The sound is behind me, but my phone is in my hand. It’s the landline. … Another ring. And another. I shrivel against the glass, wilt there in the cold. I imagine the rooms of my house, one by one, throbbing with that noise.” Still, Anna is a compelling character (“I feel as though I’m falling through my own mind”), and readers rooted for her even if we knew she probably wasn’t telling the truth.

The 12 best thrillers of 2023

“End of Story” is written in the same staccato style. The first page ends: “A breath. Then that scream. They’ve found her.”

But things get leaden right away. The setup is complicated — as one character says, “There’s too much time to keep track of.” Nicky Hunter, the book’s protagonist, is a young journalist hired by a dying mystery writer named Sebastian Trapp to write his biography (the pair met as pen pals). Trapp invites Nicky to live at his mansion in San Francisco while she writes. Trapp, called “the champion deceiver” (wink, wink) by critics, writes novels featuring a “gentleman English sleuth” named Simon St. John. Trapp is also a murder suspect. Years before, his first wife, Hope, and his son Cole disappeared and are presumed dead. How Trapp figures into this puzzle is one of the questions Nicky hopes to resolve while researching her book.

Sleeping in the bedroom once occupied by young Cole, Nicky gets to know various members of the Trapp family: Sebastian’s bitter daughter Madeleine (“her hair is careless and blond, her shoulders round”), his beautiful second wife (“fortysomething, lavish lashes and Cupid’s-bow lips”), his handsome, troubled nephew (“six feet of built-to-last, muscles bulging within his sleeves”). All of them think and speak in a similar way — droll, coy, urbane — which is to say with the same studied cleverness that Mallory deploys in interviews. Even Sebastian’s dog, Watson, is a French bulldog, the breed favored by Mallory. And then there’s this comment by a bit character late in the book: “Moral indignation is envy with a halo.” Could that be Finn throwing shade on his critics?

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The plot drags on — the phrase “the plot thickens” appears without obvious irony. At times the book reads like a dime-store romance novel: “Up and across. The man is vast, an eclipse in coat and tie, pink linen shirt taut around his belly, like the skin of some unwholesome fruit. Black eyes lurking beneath zigzag brows. Face the color of rare beef.” (Thank you, but I think I’ll have the chicken.) Elsewhere, you can almost see Finn consulting a thesaurus. “You absquatulated,” Nicky says to Madeleine, whose desk is “a dainty escritoire that chafes her thighs.” At one point, books are “rutilant in the light.” And the ending, which I shall not spoil, raises more questions than it answers.

Finn drops heavy references to the works of literary greats: Agatha Christie and Alexandre Dumas, “The Count of Monte Cristo” in particular. The epigraph is from “Bleak House.” A copy of “Rebecca” is the key to opening the door to a hidden room. The book includes a note on sources, citing Raymond Chandler and Dorothy Sayers, among others. Perhaps the purpose is to protect himself from another accusation of plagiarism, though it also comes off as rather self-aggrandizing: Does he think his words would be confused with those of Arthur Conan Doyle?

Let me end the suspense here: Even readers looking past Finn’s personal woes — or those looking at them and wishing him well anyway — will quickly be hoping for end of story.

End of Story

By A.J. Finn

William Morrow. 408 pp. $37

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story write description

One Truth and Two Liars with GT CaribSA

Professional cappers, it’s your time to shine! Join us this week as we play One Truth and Two Liars 😶‍🌫️

How it works: Everyone will write down a short description of a crazy story that happened to them. Each round, three people will be chosen to tell the same story in their own way. Everyone else has to figure out whose story it actually is.

Check out our Instagram page for more information, and more events! @gt.caribsa

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Keiretsu Forum South-East - February Meeting

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Smash the Scale

Professional master's in occupational safety and health info session, veterans day.

Finish the Story Narrative Writing Prompts - 30 Days of Story Starters

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Are you looking for a fun and engaging daily writing activity to help with teaching and practicing narrative writing?

These Finish the Story Narrative Writing Prompts are a great way to get your students engaged in daily writing while being creative and practicing narrative writing. These writing prompts will encourage your students to use their imaginations by finishing stories that have been started for them. These prompts are great a great way to practice writing skills while also incorporating a little art.

Each page features a unique writing prompt, followed by space for an independent response.

TWO versions included:

  • 30 writing prompts that include a drawing space for students to draw a picture about their story.
  • 30 writing prompts that include a full page of writing lines without the drawing space.

Includes an extra writing page for students that want to write longer stories. When finished writing, there's a section for self-checking and on one version, an opportunity for students to illustrate their writing.

Print out and staple together or put into a binder for a daily writing folder. All of my writing prompts use the same format for a cohesive look to put together or keep in binders for month-long or year-long writing journals.

Great for morning work, independent work, early finishers, nightly homework or daily must-dos.

Perfect for kids in 2nd-5th grade.

If you would prefer this set already printed on writing pages - check out the full writing prompt set.

**Please note that the questions are the same in both sets with the exception that the printed pages have one less prompt.**

Finish the Story Narrative Writing Prompt Task Cards - 31 Days of Story Starters

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