Journey to a Polish Manuscript – August: Visual and Sensory Details (RewriteItClub)

This year, RewriteItClub are doing a monthly series on writing a book, and I’m joining in with my adult political fantasy. To find out more about RewriteItClub’s series click here, or to see this month’s post, click here.

So August is turning into a bit of a manic month for me, at least the start. By the time this goes live, I should:

  • have finished the final POV edit for adult political fantasy, THE LANDS TOUCHED BY THE GRIFFINS’ WINGS
  • have done a first pass edit on my Writer In Motion short story (went live yesterday, though at time of writing I haven’t started because I’m focusing on getting GRIFFINS done)
  • be starting the final continuity pass for GRIFFINS
  • be thinking about all the query prep as I finalise the GRIFFINS beta list

Yeah, quite a lot on. This is the chaotic weekend to get over, and then the rest of the month should be a lot less stressful as there’s only Writer In Motion to do for the rest of the month (well, except for planning two new projects, but I have several months left on those personal deadline).

All of this is to say, sorry if this is a more scattered post than normal!

As the header say, this month’s RewriteItClub is all about visual and sensory details.

For me, descriptions are the natural next step from world building. The design of a room and the objects in it can show hints of how trade is affecting the world – where have they sourced the decor? The food eaten springs from the climate (and yes, trade. What can you import with your technology?). Clothing, architecture, landscapes. It can all be routed in the world the characters reside in. It’s such a subtle, but important, form of world building.

Being a world building fanatic, I often overdo my descriptions. There’s just too much, and I have to massively reduce how much is there. You don’t need every detail about the pottery, and its backstory. So much of it can be left to the reader’s inference as long as there’s enough to there to get a sense of it.

To cut it down, I think what does the character spot? They will notice some details and not others thanks to their world view, their history. A military-esque character will notice potential weapons and exit routes, while an artist will admire the fine stitching on the cushions. The emotion and pacing helps too. Someone who’s scared will only notice the threats, and someone with few cares will have more time to look around.

Not only does it help guide what needs to be described, but this builds characterisation and mood.

The other consequence of coming at this from a world building perspective is that my gut is to go with the visual descriptions, which gets very dull very quickly. Instead of immersing the reader, it glazes eyes with a big chunk of what something looked like. These are the ways I try to combat it:

  • Break it up

Sometimes I do just write out the full description and then split it up to spread throughout the scene. This tends to be in situations when there are lots of important clues in the setting, so I work out what order the character would need to see it to join the dots, and have them to react as they notice.

  • Use specific colour words

It’s a really small, but really easy trick. Search the basic colour names (red, yellow, green, etc ) and replace some with a more specific shade. Crimson, saffron, olive.

  • If there’s food, have them eat

Sounds pretty simple, but I am so guilty of just describing the food on a dining room table. But it’s going to have a smell and a taste, so get the character to pick up a spoon and dig in.

  • Find different ways to describe magic

In TV and film, magic is often a glowing ribbon of light, because they are visual mediums. But in books, magic can have a feel, a taste, a smell, a sound too.

  • Get the characters to interact with the setting

Not only does this make the descriptions more active, but if they’re picking up the objects, there will be a feel to them too.

Is writing descriptions something you find easy or difficult?

Read the other posts in this series:


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