What writer couldn’t use some quick tips to make a story pop with amazing details? I know I could!
Have you ever read a story that just felt kinda meh? Perhaps the dialogue was good, and the characters were interesting. The plot might have even been fresh and original. But something was missing. Something was flat. You weren’t drawn in to the setting. You weren’t really immersed in the story.
Transporting an audience to another world takes some skill. It’s not enough to plonk words haphazardly on the page.
A writer has to beguile their readers.
Tempt them along with sensory details that fill their minds with the sights, sounds, smells, and feels of the setting.
There’s nothing better than reading a well-crafted description that makes you forget you’re simply reading a book. Instead it seems like you’ve got a seat, front and center in all the action.
Some of my favorite authors are the ones who string words like colorful beads on a necklace, one after the other, until I feel like I’m right there in every part of the scene.
Here are my top 3 tips to help you create a story people will LOVE to read:
Tip #1. Create an amazing story setting
Take the beginning of chapter two from Elizabeth Marie Pope’s YA novel, The Perilous Gard:
The rain threaded and beaded every branch and leaf and twig, dripping mournfully at the jarring thud of the horses’ hoofs. It clung to the shoulders of Kate’s heavy cloak and glistened in the long gray folds of her riding skirt. The instant she raised her head, it began to gather on her lashes like tears.
Can’t you imagine yourself riding through the forest in the rain? Doesn’t your very skin feel cold and wet? You also get a sense of tone from this passage. Kate doesn’t seem very happy, does she? And not just because she’s stuck on a horse with water dripping all around her.
The repetition in the first sentence of branch and leaf and twig as well as the comparison of the rain to tears on Kate’s face all add to the despondency of the moment.
Before you start to shiver, consider Madeleine L’Engle’s description from Many Waters, a companion to A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle’s heroes, Sandy and Dennys find themselves whisked away from their freezing New England farmhouse only to be dumped in a desert.
They were standing on sand, burning white sand. Above them, the sun was in a sky so hot that it was no longer blue but had a bronze cast. There was nothing but sand and sky from horizon to horizon…The brazen sunlight beat down on them. After the cold of snow and ice, the sudden heat was shocking. Small particles of mica in the sand caught the light and blazed up at them.
Wow. A completely different scene. Now, instead of the rain beating down on me, I’ve got sunlight saturating every pore!
And did you notice how in both of these descriptions, the authors use what the reader can see as well as what the reader can feel? That’s the perfect intro for my next tip:
Tip #2. Make your descriptions do double-duty!
The best writers will make sure their word choices pack a punch in more than one way.
Take, for example, a single sentence from Mary Weber’s Storm Siren:
The yellow flags above me snap sharp and loud in the breeze as if to emphasize my owner’s words that yes, she’s quite aware such a high count is utterly ridiculous.
Weber could’ve used the verb wave or billow to describe the movement of the flags, but snap gives a perfect visual and auditory clue that puts the reader right in the middle of the slave auction with Nym.
Tip #3. Don’t overlook the other senses!
It’s not enough to add sight, sound, and feels to your story.
What about taste? That’s an important detail that immerses the reader more fully into the scene.
Look at this passage written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and tell me your mouth isn’t watering:
Ten pancakes cooked on the smoking griddle, and as fast as they were done Mother added another cake to each stack and buttered it lavishly and covered it with maple syrup. Butter and sugar melted together and soaked the fluffy pancakes and dripped all down their crisp edges.
Every time I read Farmer Boy, I get hungry. Every. Single. Time.
And finally, there’s smell. Some studies claim that smell serves as a powerful aid to memory, so don’t forget to saturate your reader’s sense of smell with unforgettable details.
I always enjoy Rosemary Sutcliff’s narrative because she includes this important sense like here in The Shining Company:
I mind the scent and colour of raw new wood and green thatch and great tubs of washing water that smelled of herbs. And, fingering its way in from somewhere outside, the fat reek of beef stew.
These scents greet the hero, Prosper, at the end of a long journey, and the familiar smells add to his feeling of homecoming. Perfect!
Each one of these authors are masters at adding sight, sound, feels, tastes AND smells to their story. And these are the details that make a manuscript shine.
So the next time you edit your story, double-check that your setting immerses your reader, your word choices do double-duty, and each of the senses are used to your advantage. Your descriptions will be sure to keep your readers engaged and turning the pages for more.
And have fun!
Any quick tips you’d include in this list to make a ho-hum story fantastic?