H from Gail Gaymer Martin at www.gailmartin.com. Right now, I am away from home on staff at the American Christian Writers conference in Dallas, Texas, and today I want to give you some information on purposeful details. Description can connect with readers when it evokes emotion, and it can also deepen characterization by helping expose characters’ attitudes. When you use detailed descriptions in your novels, think about the affect the details have on readers. Develop them to get the most emotional impact you can. And how do you do that?
You create an emotional impact with the reader, by being selective with which details you chose and the emphasis you place on them. Remember that description and details are not only presented with the eyes. What we see is only one of the methods you use to bring the scene to life. Include the senses in description. In Description I, I used an example of a woods. Take that woods and add other senses besides sight. The scent of the woods lingers in your memory whether in the heat of summer, the moldering odor of autumn decay or the damp, mildew aroma of spring.
The woods are filled with colors from the white mushroom almost hidden in the grass to the umber hue of a tree trunk, the shades of spring green leaves to forest green. Then consider textures. Scrap you hand against the rough bark, run your finger along a maple’s smooth leaves as you feel the ridge of veins. Pick a peach from the fruit tree and stroke the fuzz, feel the tickle on your fingers and your mouth as your teeth snap into the sugary juice, and you smell the sweetness.
Where does this take you in your recollections? Does the description take you back to past experiences? Can you recall how you felt. Where you with someone else? Draw in the emotion it triggers in your mind.
Along with pulling emotions from senses, description creates word pictures that heighten a reader’s pleasure in your novel. Instead of seeing the woods tree by tree notice the clusters of trees, picture the open spaces in the landscape. Is this a meadow or a place filled with underbrush? The meadow is a setting for lovers to have a picnic while underbrush is a place to find a dead body. Leaving the woods, look at a bookshelf. Besides book what is there that helps to define the character—photographs of family, trophies from sports successes, knickknacks that hold memories for the owner, a pair of small scissors tarnished with age, a wooden box filled with pebbles? What do you learn about the character? How does this affect the character’s relationship with the owner of the items on the shelves? Will readers be aroused by the description you paint?
Description without purpose should create a sense of place only. He followed the path through the woods of maples and birches and heard in the background the skitter of animals as he trudged along in his thoughts. This is enough to let the reader picture his walk.
But description can be used to heighten characterization and emotion. When used well it can foreshadow danger—think of the underbrush in the woods—or set the mood for a romantic scene. When description, no matter how you use it, provide the reader with word pictures that trigger their own memories or experiences, you’ve done your job. Use description wisely.