Writing Descriptive Passages–A Comment on the Latest Skill List Project Post

I’ve previously written about sfnovelists.com’s Skill List Project here and here. It’s a fantastic series of posts for all fiction writers, not just science fiction writers. Today’s post, about writing descriptive passages was another winner.

James Alan Gardner, the author of the post, provides this great quote regarding writing descriptive passages: “A descriptive passage is the story of a character’s encounter with a person, place, or thing.” Like any great piece of advice, it appears simple, yet it conceals profound knowledge. Gardner goes on to unpack the statement, explaining that by “story” he means a chronological and repeating series of perceptions and reactions. And each of those pieces is filtered through the character’s senses, memories, and priorities. I don’t want to ruin this game of an article, so click on the link above and go read it now.

Descriptive writing is sometimes difficult for me. I’d much rather get back to the dialog or action. And I think this reveals a mistake by a beginner writer. I was viewing description as something static and simple–a way to paint the scene for the reader’s mind. Instead, like dialog, I should be using these moments to reveal and explore my characters. For example, I could easily describe the bowl of apples in my kitchen: the color, the smell, my plans for a snack. But if it were Snow White or Eve looking at a bowl of apples, wouldn’t their description be different? It certainly should! There’s an entirely separate and unique context to their perception, and to not take advantage of that context would be waste the descriptive passage.

This passage really opened my eyes. I no longer view descriptive writing as boring or time-wasting, but as an opportunity. What do you think of this advice? What tips do you want to share regarding descriptive passages or writing fiction? Post them below. And if you haven’t already, keep an eye on the Skill List Project. Your writing will definitely improve because of it.