I like to think that my biggest strengths in writing can be found in action and dialogue.
My biggest writing weakness is in the descriptions. I don’t want to say I’m terrible at writing descriptions, but I do find it very difficult to write more than a paragraph or two where no speaking or action is taking place.
Maybe I’m being a little to hard on myself though. It’s not all descriptions that I have trouble with; sometimes I can describe things quite well, as long as it’s something small and I keep it short.
The problem arises when I try to describe something larger–something that might take a page to describe. Something like a setting.
I don’t have any trouble visualizing a setting in my head, but when I try to get that onto paper, far too often I run the risk of listing (often bland) physical traits. “Telling” the reader about it instead of “showing” as the kids say.
For example, let’s say you’re describing Hell:
“The walls were black. Pits of fire were everywhere. Devils whipped sinners with leather straps and poked them with pitchforks. Satan sat at his thrown at the head of cavern.”
What is that? (Besides being “Hell” to read.) It’s just a list of things in the area. There is no emotion from the main character as he experiences the place. There is nothing to trigger any emotion from the reader either.
A better way to show might be something like this:
“Bob couldn’t remember anything after he switched lanes in the no-passing zone to get around that school buss. He lifted his head, inhaling the scent of smoke and wiping the sweat from his forehead. It was dark–nearly pitch black–but through the flames he could still make out the silhouettes of figures in the distance. The silence was broken by the sudden sound of a whip cracking. He listened in horror to the screams of the figures as the whip came down.”
Obviously that’s not perfect, but it does a better job of describing the scene than the first example by capturing it as the character sees and experiences it .
And really, that’s how settings are supposed to be written. The reader should be experiencing the setting along with the character. “Seeing” it and “feeling” it, not being told what it looks like or how it feels.
What about you? Do you have any tips on writing more descriptive scenery?