I would answer No to both poll questions. I find writing descriptions tedious, that they slow me down when what I really want to do is get on with the action. When I’m reading, I often skip through descriptions. When editing, I enjoy refining a piece of dialogue to get it just right for the character’s voice and, at the same time, to move the story on. However, even I recognise – oh so reluctantly – that writing is much more effective when readers are shown how characters spoke, any hand movements, facial expressions and how they held their bodies, but, here I am, half way through a novel of characters who are all raising their eyebrows and rolling their eyes (or so it seemed to me). If you are an editor or publisher, please stop reading now. The Novel won’t be like it when it reaches you.
I have found some resources to help writing descriptions. I came across Descriptionari – a website where other writers post their favourite descriptions – accidentally. To be honest, at first, it felt like cheating, like one of those pay-for-GCSE-essay sites, but it isn’t because what fits the Descriptionari writer’s context doesn’t fit yours. Yet, it is so helpful to be able to analyse what other writers have written in similar situations. I also find the Macmillan Dictionary Online Thesaurus to be better than other thesauruses as it includes related words too.
Inevitably, I have also discovered, on the internet, many many articles saying, in so many words, ‘Don’t do descriptions’… and then told you how to do them. These demotivated me. As I put my computer down and picked up my book, wondering why all other writers could do descriptions and I couldn’t, I realised that the biggest resource of all was staring at me in the face.
Coincidentally, when I was doing a bit of clearing up at home, I found a copy of The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (actually awarded to my father as a school prize in the 1930s). As this book was falling to bits, I downloaded it on to my Kindle and I’m still reading it. I know what you’re going to say, Dear Reader, that nobody reads The Forsyte Saga, but those people who watch the box-set are missing some of the most vivid word descriptions ever, of characters, how they move, how they look, how they speak, how they react without speaking.
Soames looked very real, sitting square yet almost elegant with the clipped moustache on his pale face, and a tooth showing where a lip was lifted in a fixed smile.