ACADEMY: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

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    Reader and Writer Legacy's Avatar
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    Default Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    What's up, y'all?

    For our first "lesson" discussion this month, I figured 'Description/Worldbuilding' would be a good topic to delve into. I considered things like grammar or 'How to Plan Your Fic,' but honestly, since virtually everyone here is already in the middle of writing something, I didn't think it made sense to start that far back.

    So, in this month's lesson, we will be discussing the importance of good description and ways to improve upon this aspect in our writing.

    So, I guess without further ado, let's get into our first lesson!



    The Writer's Workshop Writing Academy


    Lesson One: Description and World Building



    Description. What is it?

    Well, @Gastly's Mama; @LightningTopaz; @Aladar; @Drakon; @Caitlin; @Misheard Whisper; and all the rest of you can weigh in on that as well, but to me, 'Description' is how we as writers are able to paint the picture of what is happening in our stories for the readers.

    If our word processors are our canvases, then description is our paint!

    Description, and whether we are effective with it or not, is essential in whether or not our story will be bland or rich... boring or exciting... concise or cumbersome!


    To start off, here is a great article I found a long time ago on my favorite writing site: Writing-World.com

    The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life

    I really encourage you guys to read the article, especially if you feel like description is sometimes challenging to write.

    What did you think of it?

    IMO, the author of the article, Anne Marble, says it perfectly: Without description, our characters would just be wandering down vague hallways, and our readers don't get a sense of time or place in our stories. Our stories are boring without it!

    But at the same time, TOO much description is often just as damaging. Want to see an example of WAY TOO MUCH description? Here: Check out the Prologue of this terrible fic.

    As you can see in the example, there is just mounds and mounds of text describing what is going on with the setting. Sure, it does paint a picture for the reader of what is going on, but the reader is left saying, "WE FREAKING GET IT! IT'S A DARK FOREST DURING A STORM! HOW MANY WAYS ARE YOU GOING TO SAY IT!?"

    As Ms. Marble says in her article, you should avoid these HUGE clumps of descriptive text in your stories because, frankly, it will bore the reader.

    Another great tip Marble gives is this: "Make Description an Active Part of the Story."

    Now what does that mean? It means that instead of simply stating your description as a list of things, you need to blend the description along with the action.

    For example (based on Marble's example in her article):


    • Instead of saying, "The ale was cold. She wore a leather top."

    • You could instead say, "Zara grabbed her mug and gulped it down, shivering when a few drops of the frigid ale trickled down her chin and down below her leather top."


    You see how are you not only giving a vivid description of what is happening, but you are tying into the story. You are avoiding the common mistake of simply listing things happening like a grocery list.


    I don't want to make this first post too bogged down, as this is supposed to be a discussion, but here is one more helpful article (in my opinion): Kill the Adverbs!

    It's from the same website, and I just think it's great advice. As Mark Twain said, readers don't want to watch your characters 'walking slowly' or hear them 'speaking softly.' Make your characters 'jog,' 'march,' 'saunter,' or 'sprint.' Make them 'mumble,' 'mutter,' or 'whisper.'


    Anyways, that's enough out of me for now!

    What do you guys think?

    Here are some possible discussion topics to get us started:


    1. Do you think the above articles were helpful? What did you agree with? What did you disagree with?

    2. How do you draw the line between too much description and not enough description in your writing?

    3. What about world building? How much time and energy do you dedicate to introducing your readers to the details of your world? How detailed do you get in describing it?

    And obviously, feel free to drift away from these topics. As long as the discussion stays on the topic, go for it!!

    Ask questions, make comments, give us examples from your own work, ask advice on how to make a particular passage better! Anything.

    OK GO!


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    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    I'll kick things off by adding a tip about describing Pokemon.

    Even through I know most everyone here knows what the Pokemon look like, I still assume that any potential reader has not heard of Pokemon before, and include a little description of what the Pokemon look like the first time we see them. (so Pikachu would be described "The little yellow mouse" for example)
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    CEO of the Monsters Lugion's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    That was actually a very good article. Thanks for posting it, Legacy.

    It helped me think of description in a way I haven't before. I knew all about not going outside of the perspective you're writing from, but I never thought to keep it within the action.

    (And stop calling your own stories bad!)

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    THE CULT OF PERSONALITY System Error's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    Quote Originally Posted by LightningTopaz View Post
    I'll kick things off by adding a tip about describing Pokemon.

    Even through I know most everyone here knows what the Pokemon look like, I still assume that any potential reader has not heard of Pokemon before, and include a little description of what the Pokemon look like the first time we see them. (so Pikachu would be described "The little yellow mouse" for example)
    Pft. Mortal.

    In the middle of the lake was a massive serpent. Its body was armored by coarse, thick scales that appeared as though they would only yield to hard bludgeoning. The length of it was comprised of countless segments - tinted a desolute beige on its front, and a cold, dark blue on its back, lined with off-gray fins so sharp and rigid they might shred through metal. But what stood out most of all was the head of the matter. Though a creature of the deep, a fire resonated in its already scarlet eyes. Its jaw - from which two white whiskers dangled - was wide enough to devour a man in one bite, and though only a few fangs sprouted from its gums, they alone seemed capable of the task of tearing food to pieces. And if their pointed form was not enough to platicate the masochistic, several spines on the side of its face and a pointed dragon's crest above its eyes served as decor to the furious guise of the destroyer.

    Of course, when and where is a good point to make, too. With something built-up like this, you know shit's about to get real. Meanwhile, if you were to write something more simplistic...

    An angry-looking blue and yellow sea serpent with a gaping jaw and spikes about its face was in the middle of the lake.

    It's not that big a deal and pretty much bare-bones, but it gets the message across. The amount of description can be used to set the mood in an artificial manner, though. Give a lot, and things become more dramatic and slow-paced. Give a little, and you can make things action-y and fast-paced. Strike a balance, and you'll have a more neutral mood. As long as you don't go overboard in either direction, and like, follow through on it (so like in the first description I gave, you better continue to make it seem like a big-ass deal in whatever scenes follow, one way or another) you should be fine.

    Probably. As long as you don't like, do too much or too little for no reason.

    I have something to say on worldbuilding, but it'll take a while to compile together. Like, who-the-hell-knows-how-long.
    Last edited by System Error; 4th June 2012 at 11:15 PM.
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    J'ai Envie De Toi AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    I say this in almost all of my reviews: I'm actually a huge fan of extraneous description. I loved the prologue of TPI. By the way, I'm still bitter that you discontinued it the SAME DAY I FINALLY CAUGHT UP! I don't know why, but I find lots of description to be really cool. I'm serious, when I read stuff like the opening of TPI I'm all "Yeah! Metaphors! Fuck yeah!" It's difficult as a writer to decide where to draw the line, though. Something I often do that I admit is not easy, is to read through your story from the point of view of a reader, not a writer or editor. Only visualize the things that are described, and don't let your imagination fill in the blanks. Admittedly the reader will do this, but you need to be on the lookout for anything vital to the setting that you may have missed. It's quite jarring for the author to say "Evan hurried to the cliff's edge and peered over," when you haven't even mentioned a cliff anywhere in your description. This is particularly prevalent in fan fiction, where many authors assume their readers are as familiar with canon as they are. Even if a character or setting is in the games/anime/manga, describe it anyway.

    In case description is relevant, but there is no reason for your character to notice it, one can always describe the setting before introducing the action. Admittedly, this only works in third-person.

    I definitely agree with what the articles had to say. Particularly the point about parentheticals. I do that a lot in my posts on here, but I try to avoid it in my actual writing.

    As for world-building, I find it fascinating. That said, I don't allude to it a lot in my writing. I've participated in a lot of discussions where people talk about how their canon has this geography and that government, but I feel like it isn't even necessary to come up with that stuff until it matters to the story. For example, I won't write about how the regions are located in relation to each other or what the rest of the world looks like until my characters actually begin travelling inter-regionally. On the other hand, I never really thought about the government of the Pokemon world, particularly my version. But recently, my characters have happened upon Team Rocket's occupation of Saffron City. In the games, one wonders why the government doesn't do anything about it. So I had to construct a government where bureaucracy and a string of approvals, rules, and conditions that must be met cause a gridlock that keeps the police force or what have you out of it for a while.
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    Description, eh...it's nothing something I'm awful with, but defiantly something I'm not consistent enough with. In fact, I've taken a break from writing my fic and have started cleaning up the fic a bit, description & grammar wise. I just finished cleaning up Chapter 3, but I wonder slightly if I may have gotten a tad too flowery in my description, being flowery isn't a problem I have at all, but spending time on things that aren't going to matter later on can be considered flowery behavior. I tried my best not to overdo it though, I mean what are your takes on these cleaned up paragraphs right here?


    "Haxorus!" Drayden said as his Poke Ball exploded with a large flash of intense light, a large monstrous creature appeared, large muscles, razor sharp claws, a rough build, and a body covered in primarily black, red, and green looked menacingly at Druddigon. Probably the most intimidating thing about the Pokemon, its bloody red eyes that looked as if they would pierce through one's soul if looked at for too long, almost as sharp as the Pokemon's jaws itself. The Pokemon continued to eyeball Druddigon with those same paralyzing hellish eyes. Druddigon couldn't move, his soul and heart were sliced cleanly through by the Axe Jaw Pokemon's simple gaze.



    "Really, I expected more. Draco Meteor!" the Spartan Mayor ordered as Haxorus's inner body took on a yellow glow and light, it slowly built up until the Axe Jaw's Pokemon's stomach was almost completely consumed in the magnificent energy, Haxorus looked up and spat a large blast of yellow energy toward the roof. The energy soon broke into multiple charges and landed in random places around the gym, Iris was wary herself of the attack. Not many hit Druddigon, but the ones that did rocked the Cave Pokemon's world, each beating from the charges feeling as if the Pokemon was being struck by a meteor shower itself. The Pokemon bruised and fatigued gave into his tired nature and fell down, knocked out.


    Description is important I agree, and that webpage certainly was helpful. I'll be reading it again later, also I would like to share a webpage from an old site I went to on description. Is that okay? You have to be a bit of a ninja with your description, spewing it all out at once can be a little tedious and boring. I mean, for example. From many popular fics I've read they usually avoid this type of description.

    Chikorita's body was green, with a long leaf on its head, a small body, and small seeds around its neck, and red eyes, with white little feet.

    Usually opting for this instead:

    Chikorita's green body gave off the smell of freshly cut daisies, the sweet scent of blooming flowers permeated from the lush leaf on its head. The Leaf Pokemon was considered very adorable by many females, especially, even the seeds around the Grass-type Johto starter's neck looked to be that of an actual jewel necklace.

    I agree for the most part, the second description is more fun to read and better.

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    J'ai Envie De Toi AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    My take? Forgive me if I'm going a little too far...

    Quote Originally Posted by Gotpika View Post
    "Haxorus!" Drayden said as his Poke Ball exploded with a large flash of intense light, a large monstrous creature appeared, large muscles, razor sharp claws, a rough build, and a body covered in primarily black, red, and green looked menacingly at Druddigon.
    First off, you use "large" three separate times in this sentence. It's not only extraneous, but it's a boring word. I'd toss out the first two, given that they're kind of redundant (monstrous implies largeness) and replace the third with something more descriptive. One of the articles Legacy posted talked about not using too many adjectives. I'd get rid of a couple others as well. From a non-description standpoint, it could also be broken in to two sentences. If I were to rewrite the sentence(s):

    "Haxorus!" Drayden said as his Poke Ball exploded with a flash of intense light. A monstrous creature appeared with fearsome muscles, razor sharp claws, a rough build, and a body covered in black, red, and green and looked menacingly at Druddigon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gotpika View Post
    Probably the most intimidating thing about the Pokemon, its bloody red eyes that looked as if they would pierce through one's soul if looked at for too long, almost as sharp as the Pokemon's jaws itself. The Pokemon continued to eyeball Druddigon with those same paralyzing hellish eyes. Druddigon couldn't move, his soul and heart were sliced cleanly through by the Axe Jaw Pokemon's simple gaze.
    The description here is quite vivid and top notch. If I were you, though, I'd choose between one of the two similes for the first sentence. They're both fantastic, but it gets cluttered and flowery if you have both. Also, the first sentence is missing a verb and I would suggest not repeating "the Pokemon." If I may:

    Probably the most intimidating thing about the Pokemon were its bloody red eyes, almost as sharp as the Pokemon's jaws itself. It continued to eyeball Druddigon with those same paralyzing hellish eyes. Druddigon couldn't move, his soul and heart were sliced cleanly through by the Axe Jaw Pokemon's simple gaze.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gotpika View Post
    "Really, I expected more. Draco Meteor!" the Spartan Mayor ordered as Haxorus's inner body took on a yellow glow and light, it slowly built up until the Axe Jaw's Pokemon's stomach was almost completely consumed in the magnificent energy, Haxorus looked up and spat a large blast of yellow energy toward the roof. The energy soon broke into multiple charges and landed in random places around the gym, Iris was wary herself of the attack. Not many hit Druddigon, but the ones that did rocked the Cave Pokemon's world, each beating from the charges feeling as if the Pokemon was being struck by a meteor shower itself. The Pokemon bruised and fatigued gave into his tired nature and fell down, knocked out.
    Glow and light is redundant. I again bolded your repeated use of the word "energy." It's a good word, and it's better to use a single noun than lots of adjectives, but avoid repetition. I believe that was in the second article Legacy mentioned. Attempting to rectify this, though, I see why it was difficult. My best try:

    "Really, I expected more. Draco Meteor!" the Spartan Mayor ordered as Haxorus's inner body took on a yellow glow. It slowly built up until the Axe Jaw's Pokemon's stomach was almost completely consumed in the magnificent light. Haxorus looked up and spat the blast of yellow energy toward the roof. It soon broke into multiple charges and landed all around the gym. Iris was wary herself of the attack. Not many hit Druddigon, but the ones that did rocked the Cave Pokemon's world, each beating from the charges feeling as if the Pokemon was being struck by a meteor shower. The Pokemon, bruised and fatigued, gave in to his tired nature and fell down, knocked out.

    Your description is actually incredibly good, but you need to be careful of run-on sentences (avoid using commas where you can use periods!), and having too many adjectives and words in general.

    I hope this was okay to do. I think it's a pretty good example of what we're talking about.
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    RAGE MODE: ON R0-S3's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    Personally, I like a more bare-bones approach to description. I don't care what the room looks like, I care about the events which happen in it. If the room isn't an important place in the story, then describing it is unecessary; if it is an important place, then I still prefer that the description is limited to those parts of the room that are salient to the story. You should be able to describe your character's environment purely by detailing their interactions within it.

    To explain: I don't care about the statue on the side table. The statue on the side table is supremely uninteresting to me. But it's entirely possible for me to be interested in the statue on the side table if the character walks up to the statue and looks at it for a reason. Does this character have an interest in antiques? Are they feeling uncomfortable about the conversation they're having, and using the statue as an excuse to gather their thoughts? Do they just pick it up and examine it for the sake of having something to do while they're waiting for something? Perhaps the character's motives aren't immediately given, but the statue is later revealed to be hollow, and something interesting (drugs, jewels, a letter...) is hidden inside. I don't care about the statue, but I care about what the character's motives are for examining the statue.

    But if you just say 'there was a statue on the side table', you've got to deal with me saying "Yes? And? Am I expected to care about this? Talk about something interesting already!!" If your character has no reason for examining the statue, then don't talk about the statue.
    Last edited by R0-S3; 5th June 2012 at 01:44 PM.
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    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    I could argue that description is simultaneously the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of The Lord of the Rings.

    On one hand, you really get a feel for Middle Earth, its places, and people, and its legends. But on the other hand, many are put off by how it takes three pages just to describe a piece of grass.

    So when you build worlds, try to find a balance between too little description and too much
    Last edited by LightningTopaz; 5th June 2012 at 03:10 PM.
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    Reader and Writer Legacy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    I think the key is that the description has to contribute to the overall enjoyment of the story.

    In LOTR, where most readers have no idea about Middle Earth, a fair amount of description is needed to educate the reader. But obviously if it's going overboard, it's not good.

    Thats why I brought up TPI's prologue. You understand very quickly within a paragraph or two that there is a storm in a dark forest... It goes overboard in describing it after the reader already gets it.

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    Let's get funky! Gama's Avatar Former Head Administrator
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    Great articles, Legacy, they were really helpful.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lugion View Post
    (And stop calling your own stories bad!)
    This.

    Quote Originally Posted by R0-S3 View Post
    Personally, I like a more bare-bones approach to description. I don't care what the room looks like, I care about the events which happen in it. If the room isn't an important place in the story, then describing it is unecessary; if it is an important place, then I still prefer that the description is limited to those parts of the room that are salient to the story. You should be able to describe your character's environment purely by detailing their interactions within it.

    To explain: I don't care about the statue on the side table. The statue on the side table is supremely uninteresting to me. But it's entirely possible for me to be interested in the statue on the side table if the character walks up to the statue and looks at it for a reason. Does this character have an interest in antiques? Are they feeling uncomfortable about the conversation they're having, and using the statue as an excuse to gather their thoughts? Do they just pick it up and examine it for the sake of having something to do while they're waiting for something? Perhaps the character's motives aren't immediately given, but the statue is later revealed to be hollow, and something interesting (drugs, jewels, a letter...) is hidden inside. I don't care about the statue, but I care about what the character's motives are for examining the statue.

    But if you just say 'there was a statue on the side table', you've got to deal with me saying "Yes? And? Am I expected to care about this? Talk about something interesting already!!" If your character has no reason for examining the statue, then don't talk about the statue.
    In a lot of ways, that's what Anne Marble is saying in the article, except that she is saying to make the description relevant. Still, I agree with you. It's easy to get bogged down in unnecessary description - I went through a phase of thinking that I had to describe everything when I suddenly realised it didn't add anything to the story, and just wasted time.

    I could not agree enough with what the article says about making description active too. This is something I've been trying to do more recently. I became aware that I didn't describe the appearance of my characters enough, but at the same time resented stopping the story to describe them. It can be tough, but you can find ways to describe what they look like through what they're doing.

    Also touched upon in both articles is something I've become obsessed with in the last year or so - minimalism. Do not use more words than you have to. Typically, I rewrite every sentence like three or four times, reducing the number of words each time. Not just description, but everything. That way it's less difficult for the reader to take the same amount of stuff away from your story.

    All of this aside, description is something that I have found very difficult in the past. Sometimes I skirt completely past it because it's boring and I'm not sure how to approach it, and at other times I just get completely bogged down in it, and lose the flow of the story. That's something good that this article points out - it's integral never to lose the flow of the story. The flow can slow down, sure, but it can never stop, that's just not cool. Might sound a bit hypocritical coming from me if you've read the first chapter of my new fic where, upon reflection, I did commit that sin a couple of times (through detailing the reactions of the spectating characters a little too much), but that's something I've recognised and want to change.

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    Clarion of Revelations Feliciano's Avatar Social Media Editor
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    Quote Originally Posted by LightningTopaz View Post
    I could argue that description is simultaneously the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of The Lord of the Rings.

    On one hand, you really get a feel for Middle Earth, its places, and people, and its legends. But on the other hand, many are put off by how it takes three pages just to describe a piece of grass.
    Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter? The first chapter is dedicated entirely to describing a lawn, and then a rosebush at the tail end. I'm not even exaggerating.

    There's definitely such a thing as too much description, but at the same time, there's still such a thing as too little. Using R0-S3's example, well, I would want to know if there's a statue on the table, even if a character isn't directly interacting with it. That's something out of the ordinary, and says something about the owner of the room and table.

    To me, description is something that should be extremely important, yet never appear to be so. There's no need for flowery prose or metaphoric comparisons, but there is a need to know that it's daytime, the character is outdoors, and that there are other people around to set the stage. Do you need to describe the exact placement of every single tree and know what species it is? Of course not. But if there are lots of trees around to provide shade and people are resting under them, then that is something I think should be mentioned. I've found that an effective way to begin a story is to describe the setting in an interesting way, then have the character who we'll be following comment in some way on that setting. For example, if the setting is a pretty field of flowers, describe the field of flowers in the first paragraph, then have the second one begin "John hated this time of year. All of the pollen in the air made him sniffle and wheeze uncontrollably."
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    Quote Originally Posted by Feliciano View Post
    Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter? The first chapter is dedicated entirely to describing a lawn, and then a rosebush at the tail end. I'm not even exaggerating.
    ALL MY HATE!

    We had to read that book my Junior Year (which is, weirdly, no longer last year), and hear all about the ridiculous Freudian analysis of Hester Prynne's character, and how she was a seamstress because she "likes going in and out".

    But yeah. Perfect example of going way overboard with the details.

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    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    I'll second that example, even though I've only read a little of The Scarlet Letter.

    What I try to do is work description into the story--describe hair and eyes first, what they might be wearing a few scenes later, and then their trademark characteristic (eg. Ash's hat) Even then, I don't go on forever describing the outfit unless it's important to the plot (so if a character is playing a role in a play, I may take a moment to describe their costume)
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    Default Re: Lesson One: Description and Worldbuilding

    @LightningTopaz; I personally adore LotR's pacing- but different people have different opinions, and that fact is a part of the lesson I have now written up on this topic; what kind of readers are we aiming for?

    The lesson starts out with a few simple questions. Keep them in mind, think about them before you start reading, and after you're done, reflect on them again.

    (for those who simply want some examples and me explaining how they work/don't work, go to the "How should I word my description" portion)

    When it comes to description, consider these things:
    - What kind of story are you writing?
    - What kind of description is good for your kind of story?
    - How much description is good for your story?
    - What kinds of description can we say there are to begin with, anyway?
    - How should I see all this in relation to what kind of demographic I'm aiming the story at?
    - How should I word my description?

    Think about these questions, try and reflect on them, and more importantly, ask your own questions to aspects of this you are unsure about. Then read, then ask yourself these questions again,

    So what kinds of description are there?
    Some people will probably prefer to define this a bit differently, but generally you can say that there are four types of description.
    - Scenical
    - Character
    - Action and interaction
    - Lore


    Scenical description is any kind of description that goes into describing the surroundings. What kind of weather there is, the landscape, how a character looks, and so on. Basically, anything that describes the static visual aspects of wherever the characters are, i.e. visual aspects that remain the same until you jump to a new scene, unless any action changes it (example: the weather is generally static through a scene, but rain dance/sunny day/hail/sandstorm are all moves that can change it). Scenical description often leans on longer sentences; don't be afraid to stretch them out. The recommended overall length depends on various factors however (see the next section), and short sentences often work just as well.

    Character description is maybe slightly misleading, as it has nothing to do with describing the looks of characters. Character description is all about their person. Their inner thoughts, their personality; describing who they are in a way that benefits your story the most. This can have both long and short sentences and overall length, depending on the character and scene in question.

    Action and interaction description are two sides of the same coin - they're kind of the same but I still prefer them separated. Action description is anything visual that is not static. A character walking or running, a pokemon performing moves in a battle; describing how it looks, getting the intense feel of a chase or a battle, and so on. Interaction is basically any actions performed as part of a character interacion - body language. Flailing of arms, tightening fists, a blush, and so forth.

    Lore description is anything relating to the plot, the world, or any such other thing that do not fit elsewhere. This is generally more of a niche aspect of description, but it is still highly relevant. Say your characters are arriving at a city, and you want to divulge some basics about the city, like how it was a port city, or had a difficult gym, anything like that. This very often takes the form of dialogue however, especially when it comes to relating the plot. The prologue of a discontinued fic of mine, here, is a typical example of lore description, and the same is the first chapter of Lord of the Rings; Concerning Hobbits - it is basically a very long exposition on what a hobbit is, what they enjoy doing, who they are as a people, various clans, and so on. All that is lore.


    Why does it matter what kind of story I am writing, and the demographic I'm aiming at?
    Well, to put it simply, some types of stories need more or less description, maybe of a certain kind. For example, if you are writing an epic high fantasy story, lengty scenical descriptions are often in place; they tend to be slow-paced, and that's what you should go for. Such a story often features much lore as well, more so than your average story. The first paragraphs of the story I linked to above offer an example of how lengthy descriptions aren't all bad - for that kind of story, anyway.

    Likewise the intended demographic of your story tells you a bit about what you should focus on. I prefer writing slow-paced stories, so I aim my stories at readers who like a slower pace, philosophical ruminations and those kinds of things. That mean I feature a lot of description of every kind generally no matter what kind of story I am writing. Today however, the more fast-paced stories filled with thrills tend to be more popular. If you are writing a story aimed at such a demographic, then lengthy descriptions of any kind are generally bad - even if writng an epic fantasy story of love and adventure or whatever.

    It should also be noted that interactions should always be moderated when in the middle of a dialogue. They are important, but too much in the wrong places equals bad. Dialogue needs a certain flow - but that will be taken more in a later lesson, I presume (if not, I call for a lesson in dialogue writing).


    I will have to postulate that there are no strict rules or guidelines to this however. You mustn't have lengthy descriptions even if you're writing epic fantasy, regardless of your demographic. And so on. It is all on your shoulders - just remember that description makes or breaks a story. What I want you to do is to consider all the factors I have mentioned - the various types of description, what kind of story you are writing, what kind of readers you want to attract... and then try and find the balance you feel is good. One important rule is consistency: No matter what you go for, try and keep a somewhat consistent measure of length for the various descriptions. This creates good flow and makes the story more coherent. Of course, you can always go for a slow-paced start to a faster-paced middle and ending, or vice versa; but this requires some certain insight into how to make it work with regards to pacing and flow.


    How should I word my description?
    So now we've gone through the types of description, and the importance of seeing it in relation to your kind of story, and so on and so forth. With all this in mind, I'll now present examples of how to word your descriptions, and how to incorporate them into your story. I'll also be asking some questions that I will not answer. They may take a basis that isn't automatically correct either, so keep that in mind (a leading question is your worst enemy)

    First off, we're looking at some scenical descriptions
    Example 1a


    Example 1b


    Which example would you prefer?


    Okay, so what makes example 1a better than 1b? First of all, we have the obvious blocky writing.

    It rained, it was moist and it was cold. And it[...]
    This is just a listing of descriptions. This is only good if a character is directly complaining, otherwise it tends to fail. Since Red was complaining, it is excusable here - but generally it makes for bad description. Q: Why does it work better with complaining than elsewhere?

    "He wore a blue t-shirt and a pair of black shorts, nothing more. He wished he had packed a jacket or something warm - he hadn't expected the weather to be like this.
    This, again, is listing, of the bad kind. Listing his clothes, and several sentences in succession all starting with "he"; which also gives the impression of listing up facts. Granted, it's not the worst kind of listing, as it is relevant to what's going on, so if you have to do it, incorporate it into whatever's going on in the story. Now, we do get a sense of him not having planned correctly, which can hint to parts of his character, but it should be worded better. Q: If that was indeed a trait of his, how would you hint at it in this scene?

    He had looked for a pokemon in the forest he was in, on Route 201
    The part after the comma is an arbitrary inclusion, which gives off the impression of being artificially placed there to include information - in this case, that he was on Route 201. The way example 1a handled telling it was both a forest and Route 201 is much, much better; condensed and a part of the overall scenical description. Q: Why is this better?

    The sun was nowhere to be seen, covered in a carpet of dank clouds and occasional rainfall. The humid air seemed still, and the world carried a gray, dull color. Not a single cry could be heard, no movement observed; the stillness and silence made the forests of Route 201 seem dead, as if the route's pokemon had all evacuated to somewhere warmer.
    Naturally, all description can be labelled "listing", how you list it is generally what makes or breaks it. I generally advocate for longer sentences in description, but in this case a few short sentences typically works better. It is bound together better in this example, and it moves more smoothly from one sentence to the next, applying conjunctions, commas and a semicolon to create flow.

    Also, "The humid air seemed still" <-- instead of saying "The air was humid and still", I take one of the adjectives and apply as an attributive adjective, i.e. putting it before the noun ("humid air" -> humid is attributive), instead of both being predicative, i.e. being part of a list after the noun ("the air was still and humid" -> both adjectives are predicative). This attributive-predicative balance is important to keeping a good descriptive flow. However! This is far from always important. Here it was very relevant because of the sentence it continued into; Take "the air was still and humid, and the world carried a dull, gray colour" and contrast it with "The humid air seemed still, and the world carried a gray, dull color". One "and" instead of two in succession. This makes for better flow. Another alternative is to rewrite that portion altogether. I would opt for that, as even that one "and" seems a little bit out of place. Some things, like that, you just have to take on the "feel" and consider not from rules, but how it feels to read; this is a very important way to judge your story's flow. Personally I would remove the and and shift the words to make a "-ing" form out of "carry" (a present participle), in other words "The humid air seemed still, the world carrying a gray, dull color". This creates the best flow in my opinion, while retaining the exact same way of describing it.

    Q: How would you write this part?

    *

    Then there's the mood. Whereas flow separates poor from good, mood separates good and excellent. Describe not only what it looks like, but also what it feels like.
    It had not bore fruit; it was as if they had all run away from the weather
    This is 1b's best attempt at enforcing a mood, which is best done through introducing abstract concepts. You describe the scene best by telling what it looks like, but you enforce the desired mood best through abstractions, analogies, and metaphors.

    1a does this much, much better through the way it describes the dank dreariness of the rainy day, the way it puts it out as a poor start for journey, the way it creates the gray feel of a rainy day, and then the analogy about the world seeming dead. The way @System Error; shows the difference in the gyarados descriptions are a good example of this. The first, lengthy one, uses abstractions and analogies to set the mood. The second one is in my opinion not good however. It lists everything in one short sentence. Remember what I've said about listing. Incorporating such description into the story rather than listing in its own sentence is a good, alternate means of doing this (refer to @Legacy;'s example in the first post regarding this).

    Quote Originally Posted by Gotpika
    Chikorita's green body gave off the smell of freshly cut daisies, the sweet scent of blooming flowers permeated from the lush leaf on its head. The Leaf Pokemon was considered very adorable by many females, especially, even the seeds around the Grass-type Johto starter's neck looked to be that of an actual jewel necklace.
    Good example of how you can describe a character (here, pokemon) nicely. It is not just a listing, it is a declaration of its appearance that appeals to our senses, describing vivacious aromas and making analogies (the necklace) relevant to its popular position; adorable in the eyes of girls. Overall a good way to describe it.

    NOTE: Even though mood is good, you shouldn't always have these elaborate descriptions. First of all, they must fit into the current pacing and flow, second of all, you only need one portion per scene to describe its mood. Nothing more, nothing less - unless there is a sudden change of mood within the same scene, of course. The use of contrasts is an important and effective tool. Also, a longer scene may require a mood "refresher" paragraph, and some types of fiction, like horror, often require constant reminders of their relevant mood; a good horror story must keep you on your toes constantly, which is done by refreshing the mood continuously.



    Now let's move on to action description!

    Example 2a


    Example 2b


    Okay, this time around, there's no wrongful example, shame on you if you thought so! Or shame on me for not realizing, but that is unimportant, shhh.

    Rather, these are two different ways to do the whole action thing, both of which can and should be applied, however at different parts of a battle. Example 2a is all about the description, which has been explained and doesn't require reiteration. It was once revered as a god, so a volcarona should give off such an impression. Sun gods generally aren't kind, and couple that with its seraph-like wings (a seraph ("burning one") is one of the highest orders of angels, often carrying out divine vengeance and purging evil, being associated with fire and having six wings), I find that its godly associations and majestic streak are best fronted through fearfulness, such as the seeping lava,the soulless eyes, and so on. Thus I make abstractions related to these aspects.

    Now, this fits well in the beginning of a match, or if there's a calm moment in a match. Since matches are supposed to be action-filled, you should refrain from too much description like this - again, the balancing of flow and pacing is a key element. Example 2b shows how it would be if you were in the middle of a match, or generally somewhere in a match where you can't get too hefty with description. The portion has some basic details about volcarona's physique, but since this particular battle was very short, we didn't get a lot to see, and that was the entire point. Blaziken was under the effects of a speed boost, and with a speedy pokemon comes a speedy pace. Can't stop for description then, not more than their movements and small, broken comments on strategy. Key aspects here, which you can probably find yourself, are short, often broken sentences, with lots of hyphen breaks; unlike the three traditional forms of punctuation - commas, periods and semicolons - hyphens create a sense of urgency and shiftiness. Then there's the usage of words, which I will delve deeper into in the second part of this post (to come in a few days) - basically I attempted to use words with a "spitting" quality to them, or heavy accentuation. Cataclysmic. blistering, directly [underneath], and so on.

    Q: What do you do in order to attain a sense of urgency, and how do you balance this out in battles and other action sequences?

    *

    I'll leave at this for now; it's getting late and the post is getting long. I post again in a few days, and then we will look at examples of action and interaction mixed with character description, I will talk directly about what types of words can be used in differing contexts to achieve a better effect with your description. When to use long, complex words, and when to use short, simple words. I will explain a bit about how accentuation of syllables and syllable count of words can affect your description - and I will also go into detail regarding various aspects of world-building.

    Hope you enjoyed and learnt something from this!
    Last edited by TheLlama; 6th June 2012 at 03:33 PM.
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