Descriptive writing for descriptive writers

Descriptive Writing: Bring Your Book to Life

As fiction writers, it’s our job to create a vivid, detailed world for our readers. But that won’t happen if you have boring, generic descriptions in your manuscript.

Generic descriptions are fuzzy, ambiguous words – words like:


Sometimes known as abstract words, such descriptions make it difficult for the reader to truly “see” the scene. Abstract words tell, when every writer knows the goal is – as much as possible – to show.

They key to showing, and thus bringing to life an immersive, engaging experience for your reader, is descriptive writing.

And descriptive writing comes through specificity.

Knock those vapid little abstracts into oblivion, and replace them with more valuable, tangible description.

Here’s how to do it…


How to Be Descriptive Like a Pro

Take a look at this generic description:

Nick watched Katie walk across the grass, thinking how pretty she looked.

One word, two syllables: BOR-ING!

It tells us nothing about how Katie actually looks. It doesn’t let the reader in on any detail whatsoever about Katie’s appearance, let alone why or how Nick finds her attractive.

Let’s try again with a little more descriptive writing:

Nick watched Katie walk across the grass, admiring her long, dark hair, her pink cheeks, and the sparkle in her blue eyes.

See the difference? By replacing the generic description with a few specifics, the writing immediately has more pizzazz. The scene becomes clearer and more absorbing for the reader.

You could beef it up even more by engaging other senses:

Nick watched Katie walk across the grass, the light scent of flowers that played in his nostrils seeming perfectly in tune as he admired her long, dark hair, her pink cheeks, and the sparkle in her blue eyes.

Bringing smell into the picture along with sight not only adds more detail to the setting, but reads more deeply into Nick’s feelings for Katie by tying the beauty of these two things together.

Now that you’re on the hunt to replace generic descriptions, look for ways to include more specifics in all your descriptions, even if you aren’t necessarily using a generic term.

For example, take a look at this:

The attic was crowded with old furniture.

Sure, the reader could picture old furniture in a dusty attic—but wouldn’t it be better to say something like this?

An old rocking chair stood in the corner, next to an abandoned wooden cradle and an end table with a deep scratch across the surface.

By employing more descriptive writing, you create a richer, more interesting scene – a space your reader can feel like they inhabit.


When Generic Description is Okay

There is one place you can use generic descriptions, and that’s in dialogue. People rely on generic descriptions all the time when speaking, especially if they’re trying to be noncommittal or evasive.

Take a look at this example:

“How was your date?” I asked my daughter, trying not to seem like I was dying for details.

“It was nice,” she said, not looking up from her iPhone.

“Did you have a good time? Where did you go? Will you see him again?”

“It was fine,” she said, shooting me an exasperated look. “He was nice.”

See how it works there? Since generic descriptions don’t give us clear information, the use of the words nice and fine in this instance helps show that the daughter is being deliberately vague.

As writers, we want to give our readers a distinct, memorable story.  So let’s get rid of those generic descriptions and give them something to remember.

Later this week, however, we’ll be talking about what happens when descriptive writing goes too far – and what you can do about it.

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