Skip to main content

Describing with Precision

The Daily Writer by Fred White

Precise descriptions are as important to storytelling as plot development. Readers love the feeling of being made part of the story world, which is what precise description is able to do. In his 1903 novel The Ambassadors, in which the American Lambert Strether becomes seduced by the old-world glory of European culture, Henry James describes Strether’s hostess’s Parisian house with sumptuous and precise detail:

Image placeholder title

He found himself making out, as a background of the occupant, some glory, some prosperity of the First Empire, some Napoleonic glamour, some dim luster of the great legend; elements clinging still to all the consular chairs and mythological brasses and sphinxes’ heads and faded surfaces of satin striped with alternate silk.

He had never before … been in the presence of relics … little old miniatures, medallions, pictures, books, books in leather bindings, pinkish and greenish, with gilt garlands on the back … under the glass of brass-mounted cabinets. His attention took them all tenderly into account.

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Precise description has a cinematic effect; it allows readers to visualize the story, to experience the sensuous delights of a setting. Broad, general descriptions will not do the trick; writers must focus sharply on particulars.

TRY THIS
1. Practice precise description by describing a room in your home in meticulous detail. After finishing your description, test it out by reviewing the details in the room and seeing if you missed anything.
2. Describe a character’s appearance in two different ways: in formal dress at a special event such as a concert or wedding; then in casual dress in an informal setting, such as a beach.

Jane Porter: On the Joy of Writing Mature Characters

Jane Porter: On the Joy of Writing Mature Characters

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jane Porter discusses celebrating the nature of getting older in her new romance novel, Flirting With Fifty.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 610

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a "different way of seeing the world" poem.

How To Research Topics Like a Journalist

How To Research Topics Like a Journalist

From in-person interviews to scouring the web for credible sources, journalist Alison Hill shares tips on how to research topics like a journalist.

Can I Have Your Attention?

Can I Have Your Attention?

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, an announcement is about to change the course of history.

Glenn Boozan: On the Funny Side of Parenting

Glenn Boozan: On the Funny Side of Parenting

Emmy nominated comedy writer Glenn Boozan discusses how a funny piece of perspective turned into her new humor book, There Are Moms Way Worse Than You.

From Script

Adapting True Crime and True Stories for Television (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with writers and showrunners Robert Siegel and D.V. DeVincentis (“Pam & Tommy”), Patrick Macmanus and Liz Hannah (“The Girl from Plainville”) who both have taken creative liberties in adapting true stories for a limited series.

Chanel Cleeton: On Reader Enthusiasm Conjuring Novel Ideas

Chanel Cleeton: On Reader Enthusiasm Conjuring Novel Ideas

Author Chanel Cleeton discusses how reader curiosity led her to write her new historical fiction novel, Our Last Days in Barcelona.

Writer's Digest Interview | Marlon James Quote

The Writer's Digest Interview: Marlon James

Booker Prize–winning author Marlon James talks about mythology and world-building in his character-driven epic Moon Witch, Spider King, the second book in his Dark Star Trilogy in this interview from the March/April 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: New Podcast Episode, a Chance at Publication, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our newest podcast episode, your chance to be published, and more!