Degrees Of Descriptions
When writing stories, there's a solid chance that you'll need to describe something. It is practically inevitable.
This article is written with a focus on character descriptions, but most of the concepts should be applicable to anything you need to describe, whether a character, location or object.
I personally think of descriptions as a spectrum between two extremes. On one end of the spectrum, there's abstract descriptions. On the other end, there's describing everything in full detail.
What follows is a sequence of various character descriptions, growing from abstract to extremely detailed. All the descriptions are based on the same conceptual character. Try to take notice of how you view "the king", as described in the different ways.
The most abstract description is actually no description at all. Simply using a basic identifier like "the king", "the princess" or "the old waiter" is enough for your brain to start making connections to similar characters or people.
The king went on his daily stroll through the castle gardens, taking in the fresh morning air as he walked.
While this relation-based description can work really well, especially for simple characters or character you wish to build up around actions instead of words, it might lead to some issues, especially if you end up having a larger cast, or even just similar characters. Say you have two male characters with barely no description. Continiously having to communicate to the reader who "he" is referring to would be quite rough.
You'll often also want to give some more personality to your character or to describe some key aspects about them. This might need a few more words, but you can still communicate a lot about a character in just one sentence (without having to resort to long lists of commas).
The young king was said to be a genius prodigy, able to solve even the hardest mathematical equations, but nobody outside of the castle grounds had ever seen him.
My favorite part about describing things like this, is that you can embed immense amounts of information into just one sentence without having to make it so long or complex that you can't keep track of it.
The above description, for example, tells you 5 things about the king.
- He is a king.
- He is young.
- He is really smart.
- He is reclusive.
- He is male.
From there, your reader can start to imagine what the character looks and acts like without any in-depth descriptions. It allows for a good amount of freedom for the imagination.
But what if you really want your reader to get a clear picture of what your character looks like? Maybe it's important for some plot twist about two characters being related or maybe you just want your readers to imagine something particularly unique. Well, it might be time to add some more sentences.
The young king did not wear the long royal robes or glittering jewels of the kings before him. Instead, he slouched through the gardens in a pair of black trousers, which he had been wearing for the past few days, and nothing else. Despite a severe lack of sleep, his eyes still had their usual twinkle of brilliance.
By now, you're probably getting a solid impression of the king, aren't you? Hopefully you're starting to get a solid grasp on the description spectrum, too.
If it were my story, I probably wouldn't go much farther than this. I quite like the level of detail included in this method of describing characters. However, for your sake, let's move closer to the extreme.
Before you read this part, let me remind you again that I don't want to do this, okay? This is for you. You're making me do this.
The young king trudged through a pool of mud, which stuck to his bare feet, but he paid it no notice. Keeping his bright blue eyes straight ahead, he simply kept walking. The young man was so pale, his skin even contrasted his already bright, blonde hair, which flowed in long, messy bundles down to his shoulders. The deep purple bags under his eyes marked his third night without sleep, for he had been hard at work at his desk, which he had requested be moved to the basement. He had a faded scar on the side of his stomach and his previously lean body was starting to lose its muscle and was looking unhealthily thin.
*Phew*. Okay. That one even tired me out a little bit while re-reading it.
Still, that wasn't as horrible as it could have been. You should have a complete view of the young king in his current state by now. Certainly, there's still backstory, relationships, etc., but I consider those separate from the character description.
One final note I'd like to add is that, if you do decide to give in-depth character descriptions, try to space them out a bit. You don't need to deliver two paragraphs of exposition, like I just did. There's nothing stopping you from placing actions or occurences in between your character description.
I hope you found my thoughts and ideas interesting in some way. Hopefully you'll find them useful when you start writing.
If you have some input on this article, whether agreement, disagreement, or just general feedback, feel free to email me.