I still recall my first creative writing course in college as one of the most valuable classes I have ever taken. One of the elements my professor stressed above others was the importance of accurate description within a novel. He constantly challenged me in this area of my writing, asking me to be more detailed when it came to the world I was describing.
From my personal writing style, I have always had great difficultly writing what could be considered the most common of elements. For example, remembering to state that the grass on a warm spring morning is green under a blue sky were elements that I had difficulty remembering to include within the novel, due to the fact the fact that it takes little imagination in order to picture such a scene. In order to overcome this, and to force myself to learn the value and techniques of description, I found myself turning to the realm of speculative fiction, which forced me to confront the art of writing a truly descriptive scene.
To draw from examples from my own writing, in my YA series, Rise of the Temple Gods, the story is set in a completely fantastical realm. It is a land where there the grass is vibrant blue, leaves burst forth in yellow, pinks and orange from the bark of large red trees. The sky is violet, blazing with the light of three suns which rise and fall at varying times Horses come in multiple colors including silver, gold, pink, and blue. All of these details are extremely important when describing this fantastical world.
The act of writing such a world taught me, more than almost any other element, the importance of vivid, detailed and consistent description.
It is important, perhaps more so in speculative fiction than any other, to ensure that readers receive a clear, detailed picture of the world to which an author is attempting to transport them. Tips helping with this type of description vary for every author, but here are a few that I have found helpful over the years:
- The History – When creating a fantasy realm, it is often helpful to get a feel for the history of the world you are attempting to describe. Does it play host to a long and complicated history or a futuristic setting? Does it have a class system and if so, how do you begin to define it. Who are its rulers? Is there a structured government or other form of ruling body; or a complete lack of governance? For my YA series, Rise of the Temple Gods, crafting the numerous levels of the royal court from the King and High Lords, to the Lower Lords and Defendants, to the members of the small villages under the Lords control, all required a considerable amount of thought. I even created family trees for the families most important to the development to the story.
- The Physical World – I approached the physical characteristics of the world I was attempting to create by first, deciding basic factors such as sky color, the number of suns, the color of the grass and trees. Each of these elements was transcribed onto a list which hangs on my office wall. Keeping these details readily accessible (right in front of me) helps with consistency, as it is used as a reference while writing. I had a lot of fun with this portion of the process. Getting to build my worlds from the ground up is one of my absolute favorite parts of the writing process. In the initial portion of this process, the only limit truly is the scope of a writer’s imagination. In addition to making lists, I also have a series of maps. These maps help to show which regions are mountainous, where the palaces and temples are located and what terrain one might be traveling through as they ride between various locations throughout the story. Much like the lists, these map also helps with consistency as the story progresses.
- Clothing, buildings and color – In the writing process, it is easy to forget some of the smaller things, such as clothes, buildings, jewelry, weaponry or similar objects, however the details of the smaller objects can still play a significant role in any story. For example, In Rise of the Temple Gods, the color of one’s clothes plays an extremely important role. Students who attend the Temples of Kale are ranked based on their fighting skills, determined their performance in the tournaments in which they compete. The number one ranked student wears Gold. Number two, silver. Number three, red and so forth. This ranking system determines the level at which students are allowed to compete, their status among their fellow competitors, and their qualifications to become protectors of the realm. Color is also tied to the High Lords of the realm, as all of the men loyal to them are required to wear a particular color to denote to which Lord they are sworn to serve
- The Strange – In my science-fiction novel, the Indoctrination, description is equally important for the alien races from the various worlds encountered throughout Chrissalynn’s journey. Without substantial detail for the various races the Empress encounters, it would be very easy for the reader to become confused. Similar to describing alternative worlds, If the author fails to accurately describe them, then the reader is left with only a vague picture of what is so clear within the author’s mind.
All in all, description is a very important part of the writing process, worthy of being taken into consideration from the most sweeping of landscapes to the smallest of details. Here are a few more posts on the subject: