Describing Places — Show, Don’t Tell.

I love when I’m reading and a new location comes into play within a scene. The visual description the author brings to the reader is so important. And as writers we have ensure we cover all the elements we need for the reader to have the same image in their mind that we do in ours.

I ask myself the following questions each time I have to describe a new location–from a simple passageway, to a bedroom, to a sweeping panorama.

  • What are 2 to 4 key components of this place? These are the items which stand out with clear emphasis. Use more if you need them.
  • What are 1 to 3 small features that will take this description and make it something special? Examples of this are like the stitching in bedcovers, the fabrics used on furniture, or a cobweb in the corner of a room. Find something unique that will push your description in the direction you want it to go.
  • Is this place important? What’s its history? (Sometimes, only the author needs to know this question, but there are times when this is shared with the reader during the description because it’s important to the storyline.)
  • Remember the five senses. Sight, smell, taste, feel and speak.
  • Make sure you show your reader what you’re seeing. This is so important.

Now, not all the answers will be used, but most of them will within the scene. But most importantly, these detailed descriptions I’m speaking of come when you show your location for the first time. When you bring this same location back in another scene, there will be less description needed because you have already drawn it. So, let’s jump to it and see some examples, because I find it’s so important to add a showing to my posts.

Example one: To set this scene, the heroine has never been to this place before. She’s walking down a passageway and into a bedroom that’s far more than what she’s used to seeing.

The passageway was wide, yet dimly lit with wall sconces holding candlelike bulbs. She didn’t slow since all the doors were closed, but at the fifth which she’d been told was hers, she halted. The ornate brass knob was curved, and she pushed it open.

She stood in the doorway, doing a double take. Wow. The room was three times the size of what she had back home. And from the size of that bed–she would get lost in it.

Heading across the polished wooden flooring, she gripped one of the four carved hardwood posts that rose high above the bed to support a canopy of sheer lace netting. Pushing one corner of the lace aside, she ran her fingers over the violet silk covers. So pretty, with detailed stitching in mauve and gold thread.

Now onto example two: To set this scene, the heroine is standing on a rocky cliff face before a large palace.

She stood on the precipice and stared down its craggy side. The ocean was eerily beautiful, almost beyond magnificent in its violent splendor.

Turning on her heel, she saw the palace. Wind whipped her hair about as she gazed up. So unreal. It was four floors in height and constructed of large blocks of gray-black stone. From each of the many corners, a slender tower rose to double the height of the palace, at least a dozen towers visible from her position. This residence was a fortress, although a stunning one with light shining from behind stained glass from the largest of the windows.

I hope you get my point–you want to bring your reader into the location you’ve set. Have them standing there, touching, feeling and seeing what you do.

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11 thoughts on “Describing Places — Show, Don’t Tell.

  1. Beautiful setting. And I love your blog posts. My descriptions are akin to a few harsh paintbrush strokes, so it’s a breath of fresh air for me to read something this dreamy…

  2. This is some great stuff here. I find when I’m too into the scene I forget to describe things because its all so vivid in my own mind. I usually pick this up on the second draft and I do follow some basic rules similar to what you laid out. I do like the part about 1 to 3 small details, those are the things that bring a picture of a room into reality.

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