Home » Writing » They say silk, some say dust…

They say silk, some say dust…

Over the weekend, I realised something about the way I write.

I like description in books, sentences where the setting is detailed with beautiful words and compared to beautiful things. Such as, ‘The grey clouds in the sky above appeared like folded silk’. It’s pretty and I like it, a great way to get across what needs to be said in an elegant way.

And although I can write description like that (as detailed above), sometimes I forget 😀

I realised it’s because I write from deep within my character’s view point. I would instead say how my character perceived a scene, and if he didn’t know what folded silk looked like, I wouldn’t write it. The reader might know what silk was, but what if my character had never seen it?

Therefore I end up writing descriptions of settings in a way that my character would recognise it. So, say that my character had lived all his life on the streets, that grey sky would now be likened to, ‘Plumes of dust that bellowed up from the gutters’.

Am I making sense? 😀

I don’t think there is a wrong or right way to write description, it’s just an observation I made about my writing, and it got me thinking if I should write so deep within the perspective of a character. I am writing for the reader, after all, and most readers know what folded silk would look like, so does it really matter that my character wouldn’t? Or would it help a reader understand a character further if they described their surroundings in such a way?

But I do think this method might work well for different character perspectives. If you are using multiple character POVs, then the different way the characters survey a scene and describe would help the reader connect and understand each character individually- one might notice the green of the trees in a forest, another might only see the dark shadows that lingered within.

Or, maybe I am just over-thinking this as I usually do!

Description is something I think on a lot; I know I have to include it, but the way I write it into my book needs to suit the story and character. For example, in Heart of the Arena, I didn’t describe much after the initial setting, because it was supposed to feel monotonous. But when Sabina is put into a room that she hasn’t seen before and I added a vivid description, it stands out more to the reader, as it would Sabina herself.

Do you use description as a writing tool? How do you go about writing it? Do you have any tips for writing description?

Also, I did an interview over at Furious Unravelings (it was such great fun :D), check it out if you have the time- http://furiousunravelings.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/miladys-book-club-welcomes-mishka-jenkins/

Progress Report:

Word Count: 17,687 (+2670- since Friday)
Status of Fourth Manuscript: Writing first draft.

Books read: 1/4

June eBook review: Book chosen. Reading.

46 thoughts on “They say silk, some say dust…

  1. What a great way to portray description! I can see how that could add to the reader’s understanding of the characters. It adds layers to the characters that may or may not be mentioned in the story itself. Thanks for sharing!

    • It’s was one of those, ‘Oh, that’s how I write!’ moments 😀 It’s always fun to look at how individual everyone’s writing is, and that’s what makes different books interesting. Because authors approach everything so differently.

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

    • Exactly 😀 Though I do admire those who write stunning descriptions, I generally read in awe and wish I could write in such an amazing and elegant way!

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  2. I use a lot of descriptions like that, but I use a disembodied narrator style. The experiences of the characters do affect any similes or comparisons they verbally make. It’s just the narration is a lot more flowery and colorful. I try not to do the comparison too specific in case the reader isn’t aware of something. For example, I’m not sure what folded silk would look like.

    • This why writing is such an individual thing (and part of what makes it great!). My way of description wouldn’t suit a narrator style book, but in those books part of what I enjoy the most is the fun a writer has with the great descriptions.

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

      • Very true. Everyone has their own style, which is why it’s weird when people ask who an author writes like. It’s like all new authors have to be ‘the next something’. Probably a bit off-topic there.

      • No, I totally agree. I am a big believer that an author should write well, but they should write like they want to. If everyone wrote like Stephen King, things would get rather boring 😀

  3. A very interesting point. I like the idea of having your descriptions tailored to each characters perspective on the world. It’s a clever way of subtly showing us an insight into their way of thinking. Great post! 🙂

  4. I think you’re quite right to match your descriptions to your characters’ experience and perception. If I read a book where a character – to use your own example – who was raised on the street compares something to ‘folded silk’, or ‘the taste of chocolate’ or whatever, it throws me out of the story. It doesn’t seem real. If you’re using an omniscient narrative voice then by all means use descriptive language that would make sense to your reader, but if you’re describing something through the eyes of a character, then I think you need to keep the descriptions true to their world.

    I really enjoyed this post. 🙂

    • That’s how I feel, if a writer is writing in a deep character perspective, then the descriptions need to match what that character would have experienced.

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the post! 😀

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting 🙂

  5. Beware of purple prose 🙂 As said the Roman poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65–8 BC) ‘Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches; as when describing a sacred grove’ I think we all should be aware of not overdoing it. I try to write enough to set the scene but not to bored the reader. A careful balance is needed.

    • Very true. Balance is needed in all things to do with writing I find 😀 It’s also good not to forget to add to little description (which I am prone to do!).

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  6. Always, I think it’s appropriate to write from the character’s viewpoint. How would THEY really see the scene? I think you are right on in this blog post. We do want our readers to imagine the scenes/scenery however how it is described would certainly be important, especially if writing in first person.

    • I think if you write from a character’s POV it can help the reader understand that character if you describe things fro their experience and sense 😀 (If that makes sense!).

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

    • That’s how I like to use description when I write from a character perspective, but I am the same, I don’t use it enough! 😀

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  7. So, how do we who like to write that way find the audience who will enjoy the reading as much as we enjoyed the writing? My book has been languishing on the TBR of two dozen people for a long time. Is there an opinion molder out there whose review they’re waiting for, before they try it?

    • Good question! 😀 There must be others out who enjoy reading, as they say, there is always an audience! It’s just finding where they are!

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  8. I tend to do the same thing you do. I was just talking about this with someone else. I use a third person limited POV, and descriptions or explanations or anything like that really depend on how the character perceives the situation.

    • It is fun to write this way I find when I’m working from a character POV 😀 It really does help to let the reader know the character further.

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  9. I rather like your idea of making the description be that of that character’s point of view. I really hadn’t given it that much thought before now unless of course it was in a character’s dialog. But you’ve raised some great points! Excellent post! 😀

  10. Thanks for the great post, Mishka. It makes a lot of sense to me. I agree that if you’re deep inside your character you seem to take on their voice, syntax, word choice, language, way of looking at the world, etc. Once I find the voice of the story, usually it’s the voice of my protagonist, and usually after I get to know him/her well, the story seems to write itself in that voice, whether it’s in first or third person, omniscient or limited point of view.
    I don’t tend to do description well, sadly, because I know others love to read it. But I try to get around that by making the description part of the action. As my character interacts with her environment and the people in it, I try to build a picture of the scene. An example of what I mean is in the story I’m writing now: an old lady clips the box hedge that surrounds her tea roses with kitchen scissors, while the chickens belonging to hippies next door are endlessly squawking. That’s how I get in a description. Thanks again.

    • I think that’s a great way to write description, it’s a brilliant way of setting the scene. Description, and writing in general, I think needs to be written how you want it to be, that is what will make your books unique to everyone else’s 😀

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I like to remind myself to look at the details in my work, and not to forget those things I like to do! It’s also interesting to hear how others go about doing the same things.

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

    • It is interesting to look at my writing sometimes and see how I do things differently to others 😀 It’s a good exercise, because it also helps me see where I can improve!

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  11. I’m still in my first draft so descriptions are very basic. Like you though I like the metaphoric way of describing. I used to do it all the time when writing a letter to a friend or family member.

    • I find it does help get a better sense of what you’re trying to describe. By likening it to something everyone would know, you get an instant feel for it 😀

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Sometimes I worry I delve to much into thinking about the details of my writing, but then it’s nice to hear other writers feel the same way!

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  12. Great post!!! And I agree with you, especially with this: “I realised it’s because I write from deep within my character’s view point. I would instead say how my character perceived a scene, and if he didn’t know what folded silk looked like, I wouldn’t write it. The reader might know what silk was, but what if my character had never seen it?” I had an advisor who criticized a scene I wrote. The descriptions were pretty, but meaningless, since I was writing from my perspective as an author (wanting it to sound good) rather than from the character’s perspective.

  13. I love this post–I too, am very descriptive in my writing. As a writer, I really want the reader to feel as if they are where the character is at–to picture the environments, objects, people, and situations vividly. My tip for writing descriptions is to picture yourself in that scene–whatever you are writing. Write as much as possible, covering every detail you think is possible–you can always go back and refine it through the editing process.

    • That’s a good point! I always worry about adding too much little details, that it might be overwhelming, I always forget I can fix it in edits if need be 😀

      Thank you for your input! 🙂

  14. Another interesting observation on how we all deal with descriptions. I suppose in first person I describe things in the way the character would, but in third person, I describe according to setting and atmosphere – I’ll have to think about this. You raise a really good point, as always – definitely food for thought 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 It’s certainly interesting, I am going to have to remember to look at how I write description when I write in an omniscient narrator style.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting (and reviewing my book!) 😀

  15. When writing a story with multiple POV I think it’s important that each voice is unique compared to the others. One should say silk, and the other would say dusk, so I think what you’re doing is definitely fine. One thing I really like (although it doesn’t help so much with word choice) is the Hemingway app. You can take any piece of writing in a characters’s voice, paste it in and it’ll tell you stuff like the average grade level they speak in, how passive or active they are, lots of useful stuff. Some people sue it to judge their writing as good or bad, but to me it’s brilliant for making characters sound different.
    Anyway, nice post. I have been thinking about similar things, as I’m writing a novel that switches between three points of view.

    • That app sounds pretty awesome, definitely worth checking out, thank you for sharing! 😀

      I think trying to make sure every character has a unique perspective and voice is important, and I great fun to try out!

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  16. It’s okay to write the description either way, as your character perceives it or as you the writer (or narrator) wants it to be perceived. My only advice to you would be to stay consistent once you pick a style. For me, the words are less important than the meaning/sentiment behind the words.

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