How Would You Describe It?

It rained at my house today. The rain poured down, drenching my rose garden, but then the sun came out, turning the rain drops into diamonds, so I took my camera, and I wandered. As I stood among the roses watching them gently sway in the hot, steamy air, I wondered how words could describe anything as beautiful as this garden, fresh with rain.

That’s one of the problems with being an aspiring writer, at least for me, my mind is always coming up with questions. I always want to know the BEST way to do something, and since I’m relatively new at this craft, I’m not always sure what that is. As I stood in that garden, I wondered—how would I describe it in enough detail for the reader to experience what I’m seeing?

I would definitely need to tell the reader how I stared in awe at the rich color of the roses. Perhaps I would include how the raindrops glistened in the light and reflected little pictures back to me so I could see the world from two perspectives at once.

I might want to describe how the center vein in the leaves was red, like the roses, and how the red then faded into the green of the leaf until, by the time my eye reached its serrated edge, only green remained. 

 

I could tell them how the humidity in the air clung to my skin and made it feel almost as soft as the velvet of the rose petals. Or I might tell them how the clean, fresh scent of the rain mixed with the delicate, sweet smell of the roses to create a new fragrance so beautiful that I sniffed one flower after another, trying to memorize it.

How do I do justice to such beauty using only words? How do I do justice to such beauty, while keeping it brief enough that the reader doesn’t get bored with paragraph after paragraph of pure description?

Of course, in some genres, it’s acceptable to have paragraphs of description. In a fantasy novel, for example, I might say:

The brief rain shower had left the air hot and full of moisture which clung to my face until my skin was almost as soft as the velvety roses all around me. The sun was out now, turning the raindrops on the roses into diamonds, and I found myself wandering through the garden, amazed at the beauty around me.

The color of the deep magenta roses was a vibrant pink; deep and rich along the outer edges, soft and tender in the middle.  A purple dragonfly stood out as he lit on a branch, his wings flashing in the sunlight. My eye was caught by the shimmer of light on a spider web suspended between the leaves as a gentle breeze stirred the foliage. A tiny green spider clung to the center as the web moved up and down like a trampoline made of gossamer threads.

The clean, freshness of the air blended with the delicate, sweet scent of the roses to create a fragrance I knew I would never forget no matter how many worlds I traveled.

Of course, that description wouldn’t work for every genre or every story. I have to consider what telling the reader about a rose garden adds to my story at that time and place within that particular story?

In the description above I was deliberately trying to describe my garden in such detail that it would transport the readers there via their imagination, and perhaps give them a moment of peace out of a busy day. But, in a fast-paced action story, I might not want to do that. 

I also need to consider which one of my characters is wandering through the garden. My description above is much more likely to be given by a female character enamored with nature than by a grizzled old man who hates gardening. He’d probably mow down the whole garden because it was too much bother.

But let’s assume my character is a female, wandering on a new world, and comes upon this garden as she travels. She might give us a description like the one above as she moves through the garden simply because she thinks it’s beautiful. Her description would help the reader see what she’s seeing as she travels this new world, as well as giving the reader insight into her personality.

I can almost hear you thinking, ‘but it’s not action, you’re slowing the pace down.' I might even agree with you if my character had left the garden behind, and such a description was irrelevant to her journey, but what if I changed the last paragraph to this:

The clean, freshness of the air blended with the delicate, sweet scent of the roses to create a fragrance I knew I never wanted to forget no matter how many worlds I traveled, so I reached out and plucked a rose, and it screamed…

Now that gentle description was totally necessary for this story at that location because it gives us contrast; the peaceful garden has become a life-threatening incident. The action has escalated dramatically, as those beautiful rose bushes become monsters with huge, venom dripping thorns and sickly green spiders, all focused on attacking the poor traveler. She only wanted a small keepsake of the beautiful garden, but now she’s fighting for her life as the thorn-lined limbs lash around her, and stinging dragonflies fill the air.

So, what have I learned about the BEST way to include a description in my writing? Maybe there isn’t a BEST way, because what works for me in my story at that particular time, will probably not work for you. But I have learned to consider the purpose of my description and how it benefits my story. That is a valuable lesson.

Resources:

  • Emma Darwin: The Itch of Writing: The Blog - http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/
  • Beth Hill: The Editor’s Blog - http://theeditorsblog.net