Writing and Descriptive Words

I’ve heard every author I know and follow complain about finding the right words to use, especially when creating descriptions of settings, characters, and movement. It’s also one of my biggest writing struggles for every project.

I’ve started realising that it’s better for me to worry about it during revisions than in the moment. I definitely still add most of the descriptions in my first drafts, but I rid my works of the majority of the “very,” “so,” “incredibly,” and “extremely” superlatives. More than I care to admit. I try to replace them with more succinct adverbs, verbs, adjectives, and nouns so that my writing actually has the descriptions that I want. I always have something specific in mind that I want my readers to feel, sense, or see. Using the proper phrasing and words, I can better communicate those things and bring emotion and detail into the story.

I’ve begun asking myself certain questions while writing and revising.
1. How important is the description to the story?
There are times that I want to write elaborate descriptions of everything. But the vast majority of the time the descriptions actually take away from the story itself. Asking myself this question can help me eliminate unnecessary distractions/descriptions.

2. How detailed should I get?
Often, I am not as detailed as I should be for the majority of my writing. Other times, I am too descriptive and need to cut out chunks of wonderful detail so that the story works. Deciding in advance what should be described and how detailed it should be helps avoid both issues.

3. How do I want the passage to feel?
Knowing the feeling and flow of a passage can help me decide what words to use. If a scene is more fast-paced and action-filled, I will use shorter words and less description. If it’s slower and more emotional, I’ll add more details and longer words. If it’s cheery and upbeat, I might use more alliteration and rhythm.

4. How long is the passage supposed to be?
How long I want a passage to be can greatly affect how much I describe the setting, the emotions, the characters, the props, and the sensations. A shorter passage will often have less details than a longer one.

5. What else do I want to describe in this passage?
Knowing what else I want to give attention to helps me allot the descriptions according to importance.

6. What is the purpose of this passage?
Having an intention for each passage ensures that words are not wasted. By setting a purpose, I am able to see which descriptions are distracting and which ones are adding to the story.

7. Is there a more fitting word or phrase I could use?
My biggest struggle while writing more detailed passages is probably using the same words over and over again or using words that just aren’t quite right for the feeling I want to invoke. This is when I pull up a dictionary and thesaurus. I do this while actively writing way more than I should. It’s usually best and easiest to find the perfect words during editing and revising periods, but sometimes I just have to stop and find the words in that moment.

There are also helpful guides scattered across the internet for those of us who excessively use superlatives and other overused descriptives words and phrases.
Very
Said
Amazing

I definitely recommend a quick Google search of “words to use instead of _____” if you’re interested in more.

What’s your advice for finding the right descriptive words and details? Let me know in the comments.

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