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Monday, February 24, 2020

100+ Questions to Help Evaluate Your Story




Recently, I started putting together a list of questions for myself to consider when evaluating and editing manuscripts--just to get my brain juices flowing. It wasn't until I finished that I realized it might be beneficial for others too.

I'm sure there are topics and questions that I didn't include that are worth considering. And when I edit a manuscript, I focus more on tailoring what I talk about, to that specific manuscript. I also don't necessarily consider all these subject for every edit--again, it depends on the manuscript, the writer, and what kind of edit we decided on.

However, I think this list covers most of the major topics. If you don't understand what the questions are asking, or want to learn more about a topic, I have addressed all these things on my blog, so you can head over to the writing tip index and read until your heart is content (for convenience, I've also put a lot of these links in this article).

One thing: I haven't yet posted the Save the Cat! story structure (it is forthcoming), so in the structure sections, I have terminology that references that, which you won't yet find on here.

Again, keep in mind these are questions to help get me thinking and evaluating--not necessarily "test" questions that strictly tell me whether something is "good" or "bad."


Setting & Worldbuilding

(worth noting is that while a lot of the questions in this section work for any story, some are specific to speculative fiction, which is what I specialize in.)




Did I know where and when the scenes took place?

Was there variety in the setting? Too much repetition? Enough contrast?

Did it draw too much attention to itself at the wrong time? Or not enough at the right time?

Could I picture and experience it?

Did it make sense? In the world? And its purpose?

Would I want to go there? vs. Is it intriguing?

Did the world and societies make sense? Were they believable?

Did having other worlds or societies benefit the story (were they utilized in the plot, or could the story have easily taken place in our world or day)?

Were there parts of the world or society that we really should have seen and experienced that we didn't? Did we experience them enough?

Are there societal conflicts?

Do we get a sense of history about the setting and world? An immediate future?

Did the magic and world follow its own rules?

Was the magic soft or hard or in between? Was it used and addressed appropriately in the story?

Did the world or magic bring in something we haven’t seen before? Or give us a new spin on something familiar? Was it cliché?

Does it connect into something the readers somewhat understand, so that it appeals to wonder more powerfully?

If it is soft magic, does it cause problems for the characters?

If it’s hard magic, does it help solve problems?

Are the costs and limitations of the magic utilized and explored? When appropriate, do we understand its boundaries?

Is the magic utilized in the plot and conflicts?

Related Articles:
5 Most Common Mistakes with Setting 
Maximizing or Minimizing Your Setting

Characters



Were the protagonist and other key players round/complex characters?

Do they contrast each other?

Do the key characters arc? How so? Does it fit thematically?

Did side characters have their own lives? Or did their existence only revolve around the protagonist?

Was the protagonist likeable? Or at least tolerable? Or interesting?

Did they show moments of vulnerability?

Was the antagonist formidable enough?

Are the characters unique enough? Not generic (unless that's the point)?

Could I picture them? 

Did I know their wants? Their fears?

Did I sympathize with them? Care about them?

Do they have a past history? Plans for the future?

Did the characters struggle and suffer?


Related Articles:
Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Don't Use Filter Words"  
Crafting a Body Language Voice 
Helps for Writing Children 
3 Redemptive Character Types 
Working with a Large Cast of Characters


Conflicts



What types of conflicts were present? Were all five types in the story (person vs. self, person vs. person, person vs. society, person vs. nature, person vs. God)?

Was any one type underutilized? Should one be present that isn’t?

Is there variety?

Are the conflicts significant? Do we care about them?

Will the conflicts propel the story forward?

Were conflicts resolved too soon?

Or too easily?

Related Articles:

Plot and Structure




Did the story have a clear beginning, middle, and end?

Did it escalate?

Did it utilize cause and effect throughout the plotline?


Beginning


Was I introduced to the key characters, a significant conflict, and the setting?

Did the beginning establish a sense of normalcy before plot point one? At least in comparison to what will happen after plot point one?

Were the character arc and theme introduced?

Did it hook me? (By getting me to look forward or by curiosity)

Were there stakes?

If there was a prologue, what kind? Did it contribute to the story appropriately?

Was there too much exposition?

Did I care about what was going on?

Did it set the tone?

Was there foreshadowing?

Wants and fears established?

Did we look back on the past too much? Instead of focusing forward?

Consider: Orphan state, Opening Image, Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of Call, Debate, Meeting the Mentor, Crossing the Threshold, Plot Point One, Act I


Middle


Did the conflicts and stakes escalate?

Did they build off Act I? (cause and effect)

Did the story broaden or deepen or do both?

Was the theme explored and questioned?

Were there pinch points? Did they apply pressure on the protagonist (directly or indirectly)?

Did the protagonist “react” and then become more “proactive”? (Wanderer to Warrior)

Did the context shift at the midpoint?

Was the midpoint a false win/lose?

Were true friends and enemies made or revealed? Along with any of their abilities or special skills?

Did the protagonist have to battle inner demons?

Were obstacles significant and overcome?

Are the characters growing and changing?

Consider: B story, pinch points, midpoint, Tests, Allies, Enemies, Fun & Games, Approach the Inmost Cave, The Ordeal, Bad Guys Close in, Plot Point 2, All is Lost, Reward, Act II


End


Did escalation continue into the ending? Broadening, deepening, and stakes?

Did inner demons rise again? Were they defeated?

Was the hero the most active? And if not, did he/she do something most significant?

Did anything new enter the story? If so, was it problematic? Or did it work?

Did the hero need saving? Hopefully not, but if so, did it work?

Were heroic deaths and sacrifices merited?

Was the antagonist its biggest and baddest self?

Was there a showdown with it and the hero?

Would the ending be better with more callbacks?

Was the thematic statement proved and validated?

Was there a twist, surprise, or devastating cost?

Were expectations exceeded?

Were promises kept?

Was there a dues ex machina?

Were opposites crossed? The biggest external problem with the biggest internal problem?

Was the right ending model used?

Did the denouement validate changes and establish a new normal?

Were important loose ends addressed?

Did cause and effect make sense? Did Act II feed into Act III?

Consider: The Road Back, Climax, Resurrection, Return with the Elixir, Denouement, Final Image


Scene & Summary

Did the author know when to write a scene vs. a summary?

Did the writer know how to structure a scene?

How to structure a longer passage of summary?

Did every scene contain a change? If not, did that scene still play an important role?

Were any scenes weak? Should any be made stronger?


Related Articles:


Theme




Was the theme topic clear?

Did the character arc exemplify the thematic statement?

Was the story focused on the theme topic? Was there anything that took away from that focus?

Did the character cast contribute to the theme?

Did we start with a false thematic statement and end on a true one?

Was the theme questioned and explored through the middle?

Was it validated by the end?

Was it cliché?

Did the story offer a new insight that hasn’t been seen before?

Or did it exceptionally re-validated a truth already known to the audience?

Does it add purpose to the story? Leave the audience with a point?

If the theme was not illustrated by the main character’s arc, did the main character prove it true, despite being tested about it?


Was it universal enough?

Related Articles:
Why We Need Stories about Dark Things
Can You Write to a Theme? 
Preach vs. Teach 
How to Add Dimension to Your Story's Theme


Pacing




Did the overall pacing serve the story? Anything that went too fast or too slow?

Were there any scenes or scene sequences where the pacing didn’t work well?

Did hopes, fears, tension, stakes, and hooks feed into the pacing well enough?

How did descriptions affect pacing positively or negatively?

Were significant scenes brushed over too quickly (or worse, left off-page)? Were unimportant parts summarized or dealt with briefly (or appropriately off page or assumed)?

Were there action scenes? Did technicality slow them down too much?

Were there lulls at appropriate moments?

Related Articles:
8 Common Pacing Problems 
How Structure Affects Pacing 


Tension, Stakes, Hooks




Did the story have enough tension (most should have more tension than conflict)?

Could the audience anticipate possible outcomes (to get invested in what could happen)? Could they sometimes anticipate multiple possible outcomes at once?

Did the text regularly “look forward” by getting the audience to hope or fear for significant possible outcomes? Did it utilized both hope (positive) and fear (negative) to get the audience to turn pages? Did it use curiosity or intrigue?

Was potential cause and effect utilized, so that, on occasion, the audience could glimpse a potential “domino” effect?

Were stakes significant? Did they have broad, far-reaching potential consequences or deep, personal potential consequences?

Were decisions and dangers imminent?

Were hooks utilized? Were they worded to best effect?

Did the writer tease what could happen without spoiling it?

Did the text use “If . . . then . . .” statements (implied or directly)?

Related Articles:
Mastering Stylistic Tension 5 Tricks that Help with Hooks 
Look Forward, Not Backward, to Pull the Reader In 
How to Write Stakes in Storytelling
Accidentally Undercutting Tension (and How to Stop)  
Reeling Readers in via Curiosity

Context





Did the narrator/viewpoint character explain/imply enough of what was happening for the audience to follow and understand the text, tension, conflicts, and stakes?

Did the viewpoint character provide emotional context, for the audience? Did they validate (or at least acknowledge) what emotions should typically be felt?

Did the writer appropriately discern what should be context, and what should be subtext? Did context avoid becoming subtext?

Did the audience know where and when they were, what was happening, and why it mattered?

Did the audience follow and understand the story?

Did the narrator/viewpoint character add further meaning and insight into the scenes? Did their perspective add significance? Did their viewpoint matter?

Did the narrator/viewpoint character provide the appropriate tone for the scenes?

If there were teasers—did the audience eventually get context for them?

Was there too much context? Was it bloated? And making the audience feel like they are being treated as unintelligent? Too much “hand-holding”?


Related Articles:
Validating the Reader  
Working with Teasers

Subtext



Was the story bigger than what was on the page?

Was implication used to let the audience draw the appropriate conclusions?

Did the audience become a participator, rather than a spectator, of the story, because they were able to read between lines?

Was implication strong enough to allow us to come to the right conclusions (most of the time, when appropriate)?

Was implication so strong, it was annoying and drew attention to itself?

Did subtext touch on characters’ pasts and hidden behaviors/motives?

Did dialogue have subtext?

Were the gaps between contradictions related to subtext appropriate?

Related Articles:

Audience Appeal and Experience





Did the story elicit emotions from the audience? If so, how powerfully?

Can the audience relate to the characters? If not, are they intriguing instead?

Does the audience care?

Is there a variety of characters?

Are the conflicts and themes universal enough?

Did the story deliver on the experience promised (and according to the genre)?

Was the story satisfying?

Did the audience experience the setting powerfully?

Did the story hit a variety of emotions, and the appropriate emotions?


Viewpoint




Was the viewpoint consistent? (1st, 2nd, 3rd, omniscient OR in how it is handled)?

Was there head hopping? If so, was it intentional and controlled and consistent?

Was the viewpoint choice the best for the story?

Was the viewpoint character the same as the protagonist? If not, why not?

If there are multiple viewpoint characters, was the best character chosen for each scene?

Did having that viewpoint character be the viewpoint character, contribute to meaning and insight and audience experience in the scene?

Does the story utilize point of view penetration? And go to the right depths at the right times? Or does the story zoom in and out randomly?

How well was introspection handled? Was there too much? Did it add to the story? Or only tell us things we already knew?

Did introspection focus on the past too much and the future not enough?

Were there minor viewpoint errors?

Were the prose infused with the viewpoint character’s worldview, attitude, and feelings? Did it tell us more about that character?

Were “filter words” overused?

Related Articles:
Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Don't Use Filter Words"  


Relationships




Did the characters in significant relationships foil each other in relevant ways?

Did they have (or grow) a sense of history? Did their relationship evolve and change?

Did we get a sense of how well they knew each other?

Did they share vulnerable moments?

Did they grow together?

Make sacrifices for each other?

Show some form of affection for each other?

Have an appropriate “meet cute” or first meeting (and ideally, one that is specific and unique to them)?

Are there hardships, weaknesses, hurts, difficulties in the relationship?

Do they develop their own culture (inside jokes, what’s acceptable vs. not acceptable, mottoes and lifestyles)?

Do they work together?

Are they too much alike? Get along too perfectly? Share too many of the same ideas?


Dialogue



Did the dialogue use subtext? Did it say more than what was on the page?

Was it indirect, especially to hold tension?

And when it was direct, was it during the appropriate time and topic to release tension?

Did it sound realistic?

Was there maid-and-butler dialogue?

Did the story rely on dialogue too much to convey information, exposition, and context to the audience?

Were characters too direct in expressing their intense, true feelings?

Did key characters have their own unique character voice?

Was there circuitry in dialogue exchanges, or did the characters simply respond to each other?

Was the dialogue generic?

Were lines called back?

Anything quotable?

Were dialogue tags and modifiers appropriate to the dialogue? Did the dialogue itself do most of the work, instead of the tags and modifiers?

Related Articles:
(Don't) Tell Me How You Really Feel
How to Punctuate Dialogue 
Writing Callbacks 


Descriptions



Did the story regularly appeal to the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste)?

Were modifiers (such as adjectives, adverbs) reined in and controlled? And utilized to their best?

Could I picture what was being described accurately?

Were there enough descriptions?

Did the descriptions contribute to the story, tone, and pacing?

Were the descriptions purple prose?

Did the descriptions bring a new perspective to view something?

Did the writer pick the right details to describe?

Were the descriptions too stagnant?

Were significant things given more descriptions? And the insignificant, less?

Were there character tags?

Related Articles:

Blocking




Did the story utilize blocking?

Could I picture how the characters interacted with the setting and each other?

Was the blocking consistent?

Was it used to emphasize points and emotions?

And did it impact pacing appropriately?

Could I follow the blocking?

Was it specific without being too detailed?

Was there spatial vagueness?

Did it convey character?

Related Article:
How to Handle Blocking

Tone



Was the appropriate tone used for the scene/story?

Were there “tone deaf” moments?

Could tone have been stronger in certain parts?

Did it switch inappropriately mid-scene?

Was in unrefined?

Was there enough variety of tone?

Related Articles:
Exactly How to Create and Control Tone

Emotion




What are the major emotional draws?

Was there variety in the emotions felt? Was there contrast?

Were emotions rendered empathetic or sympathetically? Was each approach used at the right time?

Were any of the emotions too sentimental?

Was there any melodrama?

Were the most powerful emotional moments rendered in deep POV?

Were raw emotions and subdued emotions used at the appropriate times?

Did I feel like I was experiencing those emotions?

Did the story have an emotional impact on me? How strong or weak was the impact?

Did the writers use the same emotional indicators over and over? (“Smiling” and “laughing” whenever someone is happy, etc.)

Was too much emotional tension released through the characters, so that the audience couldn’t feel it? (example: characters crying too much and at the wrong times, releasing that tension so the audience doesn’t have it.)

Could the emotional experience have been more powerful by crossing opposites?


Related Articles:

Style, Flow, Clarity



Was the style at a professional level?

Did the prose flow properly?

How accurately did the writer communicate what was intended to the audience? Was there enough clarity?

Was the writer specific?

Did the writer understand how to start and end a scene properly?

Did style and flow contribute to pacing appropriately?

Was it easy to read?

Was sentence structure utilized to best effect? Was it varied?

Was punctuation proper?

Grammar and tense accurate?

Any continuity errors?

Was showing and telling used appropriately?

Was the writing vague?


Related Articles:
Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Don't Use Filter Words"  
How to Use the Thesaurus Properly
5 Tricks that Help with Hooks
How Structure Affects Pacing
How Often Should I "Refresh" a Pronoun? 
When and How to Weaken a Passage  
Fluttering 
Vague Vs. Ambiguous: Which are You Writing?
How to Punctuate Dialogue 
How to Use an Ellipsis Properly
How to Use a Dash—in Fiction Writing
The Easiest Explanation of Semicolons ;)

Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Show, don't Tell"  

Misc.




Was the title effective?

The chapter lengths appropriate?

Were there any believability issues? 

Did the text work off and address probability over reality?

How original were the ideas?

If writing rules were broken, was it to great effect?

If there were flashbacks, were they used to the best of their ability? Were they overused?

Is the writer satisfied with the work?

Related Articles:
How to Come up With Great Titles 
Inconceivable! Dealing with Problems of Unbelievability
Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Don't Use Flashbacks"


***

Just a quick note to say that I am looking to fill up some editing slots for spring. If you are interested in my editing services, check out Fawkes Editing


Monday, February 17, 2020

When Descriptions Turn Boring . . . (and How to Fix Them)




One time, years ago, I went to a writing conference, and while there, one group of people decided to organize a "first chapter" critique meet-up in the evening, where anyone could come and get feedback. It was great. But one of the people leading it brought up regularly that he hated description. Whenever someone read a description that was longer than two sentences, he commented that he hated description. Seemed a bit erroneous to me. I sort of worried that someone there would take his opinion to heart.

You see, I don't believe that most people hate description.

I believe that most people hate boring description.

A lot of people today blame technology for making readers unable to sit through a passage of description, and they argue that instant gratification has dulled their patience. This is only a half-truth.

Yes, technology plays a role in the way description should be written today, but not because we are all more lazy. Because of accessibility. You see, back in the day, the average person didn't have access to all the information we have now. A reader might not have actually known what a bayou in the South looked, smelled, and sounded like. They might never have been to the desert. They maybe had never tasted wasabi. Or seen a giraffe. Or heard an Irish accent.

Technology has made information and descriptions on these things all more accessible. And yes, more than technology has done this--I mean, I can go to any Japanese restaurant to experience wasabi--it's always there.

This is one of the reasons writers nowadays are sometimes discouraged from writing dialects like Mark Twain did; today, we all know what that accent sounds like. Instead, we just tell the reader they have an accent and then we sprinkle in some regional phrases here and there.

Technology didn't make us lazy (well, maybe it did in some sense); it made us more knowledgeable.

Which means . . .

     - a long passage of description of something we all know all about already can get boring.

     - Likewise, descriptions that are exactly what we would expect get boring.

     - Descriptions that have generic, "vanilla," and unimportant details get boring.

     - Descriptions that slow down the pacing of the story too much get boring.

     - Descriptions that are stagnant get boring.

     - And descriptions that are too abstract and vague, use too many adverbs and adjectives, or become purple prose can get boring . . . or at least, annoying.

To be honest, our taste for description has probably changed a lot over the last several decades.

But that doesn't mean that it's something everyone hates and should always be axed (like what was touched on at that meet-up). After all, appealing to the senses is still one of the most important writing rules to utilize. I mean, if the reader doesn't feel like they are experiencing the story, then the whole story might turn boring itself.

What it means, though, is that we probably need to approach descriptions somewhat differently today than in times past. We need to take our descriptions to the next level. Here are some tips to help with that.

Use the Amount of Description the Scene and Pacing Call for


Big, long chunks of description in a scene that focuses on a heated argument or that you plop into the middle of a fast-paced sword fight probably aren't going to be welcomed. They're going to be annoying. And they can derail the moment.

Consider the purpose of the scene. Is it a scene about a boy wizard entering a magical school for the first time? Or is it about an argument between the protagonist and her boss who just fired her? The first example calls for more descriptions. Raise your hand if you have actually ever been a boy wizard that entered a magical school for the first time. Anyone? Anyone? No one. If that is what that scene is about, then by all means, use more description in that scene, so that the audience can experience what that is like.

Have you ever been in a heated argument at work? How much of the setting and details did you notice? Now, let's stop for a moment. Because that's actually two things in one. Unless something unusual was going on in the workplace, you probably tuned out much (though not necessarily all) of the setting. But that doesn't mean you didn't notice anything. For example, you may have noticed the way a vein bulged on your boss's forehead. Or that his brown eyes are bloodshot. Or that you look stupid because of the lunch stain you just saw on your shirt. In any case, while there will be some description in here, it won't be as much as the prior example. And if you add as much, it will kill pacing--because that's not what the scene is about, that's not what the reader is here for.

Keep in mind that often pacing trumps description in priority. You can have the most riveting paragraph of description, but if it's bringing your sword fight to a grinding halt, it may need to go, or be whittled down to a single, brief sentence.

This is sort of a thing you have to develop an eye for, because in reality, I'm sure there is a sword fight out there somewhere that has a long paragraph of description that actually contributes instead of takes away from the appropriate pacing.

That's why these are guidelines. But in general, consider the purpose and the appropriate pacing of the scene.

Likewise, take into account how familiar or unfamiliar the audience is with the experience you are about to describe. The more familiar and mundane, the less description you probably need. The more unusual, the more you probably need. In general.

Use Description that Says More than What's on the Page


Like almost every aspect of great writing, great description often relays more to the audience than what is on the page. I've talked about this with subtext, I've talked about this with dialogue, and I've talked about this with developing side characters--a story is more satisfying when it's bigger than the text. A straightforward description that is all it appears to be is not as interesting as one that implies more.

For example, describing an ordinary pottery bowl doesn't tell me as much as one that has been repaired using gold (the Japanese art of kintsugi, if you are familiar with it).

Likewise, in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn books, one character's library is described as having loads of scholarly and philosophical books, but all the spines are stiff and straight and none of the pages are dog-eared and each volume is dusty. Those are details that mean something. They go deeper than just the surface. They tell us about the character. He likes to talk and pretend to be scholarly, but he actually hasn't put in the work or research to be a scholar.

Describing a regular cement driveway is one thing. Describing one that is covered in chalk with misspelled words and a hangman game implies much more.

Description can only be straightforward for so long before getting boring. Make it do double duty.

Use Description to Give us Insight into the Viewpoint Character's Worldview and Feelings


Putting in description is one thing. Putting in description that is colored by your viewpoint character's experience and voice can be totally different.

Imagine how a dog-hater would describe a dog park different than a dog-lover, and still different from someone who is allergic to dogs. When you color the prose with viewpoint, description becomes much more interesting.

This can be a great way to communicate the world and the character to the audience all at once. (Again, notice how this leads to the description doing double duty). For speculative fiction, this can also provide the audience with more context.

Select Unique/Unusual/Unexpected Details to Describe



Describing a character wearing a white t-shirt or a school desk as having four legs is so boring, it's forgettable and might as well be left out of the text. Describing a school desk as having a lightning bolt carved into it, so that the protagonist's pencil consistently gets caught when he's trying to do math, is more interesting because it's unique.

Watch out for describing things that the audience will already imagine a certain way by default. For example, describing the desk as having four legs is boring because by default, the audience already imagines that school desks have four legs. Or describing the sky as being blue with the sun being bright and yellow is boring, because we all imagine it that way anyway (unless you are on an alien planet where it's usually different). When we constantly deliver exactly what the audience expects, they get bored (and this is true of other features of writing), but when something is unexpected, they become more interested. This goes back to what I talked about in the opening. Readers don't need a long description of what it's like to take a hot shower--most of them already know what that's like to do every day (well, every day here in the U.S.). However, you can get away with some of that if--once again--the description is doing double duty. If it's really not about describing the hot shower, but using the hot shower as an extended metaphor for something else--say becoming morally clean (a cliche, but it serves my point).

One caveat to this tip. The more unusual, the more focus it consumes. Meaning, if the point of the scene is about the protagonist arguing with a boss who just fired her, then a really wild, unexpected detail, may pull the reader's attention away from where it should actually be (the conversation). Sometimes you need description there but don't want it to distract from something else. In cases like that, it's okay to have a brief, more general description (but please don't have it be about the school desk having four legs). Remember, focus and pacing trump description. Description should contribute to controlling focus and pacing, not take away from them.

Utilize Movement and Change


Something that is not moving or changing can get boring fast. Sometimes we can describe everything we need to in a scene with some good blocking. Other times we can bring stationary elements to life by suggesting change or motion.

Blocking is a writing term borrowed from plays. It relates to everything the characters do in relation to setting and each other: walking across the room, cooking eggs on a stove, putting a hand on the other's shoulder--all of those are blocking. Every time the reader is introduced to a new setting, you don't need to grind the story to a halt and describe it. Instead, you can use blocking to weave in description over the course of the passage: "I open my mom's fridge, which looks like cupboard," "She washed her hands in an old copper sink," "I smoothed the wrinkles on his button-up shirt and brushed off a crumb," "He put out square plates that had gold on the edges."

With that said, I do want to note that when the viewpoint character is introduced to a new setting, it's more acceptable to pause for a moment and describe the place, since it's new to them--as long as it doesn't (again) take away from pacing. However, if the viewpoint character is being introduced to a setting the reader has already visited several times in the book, you might not need to stop and describe much (unless, let's say, it's doing double duty--like giving us insight into the viewpoint character). Follow the needs of the story.

In some descriptions, there may not be any inherent motion. For example, imagine describing the view of the Grand Canyon from a specific lookout. Unless there are birds flying or critters near your feet or wind hitting tree limbs, there isn't going to be much motion. It's brilliant. But it's not moving or really changing as you look a it. This can turn into a boring description. So instead, what you do, is give the impression of change and movement. You mention how bands of color dart through the walls, how one rock stretches up toward the sky, how the river once carved out the canyon. You can learn more methods such as this one, here.

Giving us a sense of history about the place can also help. 

Elevate the Prose


Descriptions are more interesting when they are rendered in an elevated style. Keep in mind, this is NOT purple prose--writing that is trying (and failing) to be powerful and dramatic. I talk all about purple prose and how to write elevated prose in this article.

But real quick, I will mention a few points here. Elevated/poetic writing doesn't mean caking on the adjectives and adverbs and dramatic similes. It starts with one of these three things.


The Idea:

The best writers have fresh ideas. It might be their worldviews. Or it might be unique observations they've picked up from life.

And some of the best descriptions have unique ideas attached to them that make them beautiful, that make them significant, that make them feel like they could be poetry.

It's the fresh perspective of the thing you are describing that is interesting.


The Image:

The thing about purple prose is that it's taking something ordinary and trying to describe it in a way that sounds amazing.

You can do that sort of thing, but it's the image that counts. (Not all the fancy adjectives and adverbs you loaded onto it in purple prose.)

Great poets know it's the image itself that makes a moment amazing, not stacking on a bunch of modifiers.

I love the image of fog that J. Alfred Prufrock includes in his poem "The Love Song."

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Prufrock is making a stanza sound elevated by rendering an interesting image: how yellow fog is like an animal.


The Concept:

Some things feel dramatic, significant, or meaningful because of the concept. What the writer thought of to put on the page.

You could say this is similar to ideas, but to me, the ideas are the worldviews and insights attached to the description; concepts are the content of what is happening or exists. Concepts are more like the thing itself.

A tree trunk with a heart and initials is one thing, but a tree trunk with a suicide note carved into it is a concept that has more meaning to dig into.

It's hard to talk about writing in elevated prose succinctly because it's actually rather complicated to break down and so easy to do wrong. But if you want to learn more, read my purple prose post.

I would also say things like symbolism and extended metaphors help elevate the description as well, and therefore make it more interesting.


Finally, I want to briefly mention one other problem with descriptions that come up--descriptions that take away from the tone of the passage. Sometimes a description is bad because it doesn't fit the tone. You can learn all about tone, and that in particular, here.

And as always--don't forget about appealing to all five senses. We have more senses than sight.

Now go forth and write!