Discover the Simple Trick for Creating Vivid Story Descriptions

Discover the Simple Trick for Creating Vivid Story Descriptions

This week’s video offers a super-easy rule of thumb for always finding the best and most evocative details for your story descriptions.

Video Transcript:

In some ways, story descriptions are kind of the bane of the writing life. Descriptions of character and setting are integral to bringing to life any story. But there’s also a ton of strictures put upon descriptions. Don’t over-describe, don’t begin with descriptions, never use details that aren’t pertinent to the story.

But you do have to find details that are vivid and unique in a way that will bring the visuals of your story into three-dimensional color in your readers’ imaginations.

We could do a video on every single one of those things. But today I want to talk about an easy trick for creating vivid story descriptions thanks to one detail. Now what that detail is will depend on whatever it is you’re actually describing. Sadly, I can’t help you there, because that’s what writing’s all about.

But I can give you an awesome rule of thumb for finding the detail, and that is this: All you gotta do is focus on the details that aren’t obvious, because readers will always fill in the obvious blanks.

For example, I was reading a story recently that featured a stairway in a rundown house. The book talked about the character putting his hand on the banister. Now if you and I were writing this, our first instinct for describing that banister might be the word “rickety,” as in “he put his hand on the rickety banister.”

And why not? “Rickety” is a good word.

But it’s also the obvious word. There’s a reason it was the first word to pop to our minds. It was probably the first word to pop to the author’s mind, but it wasn’t the word he used in the end.

Instead, he wrote about a “splintery banister.” This is every whit as evocative as “rickety,” and the fact that it’s a little more unique means that it not only introduces a new aspect of this banister, it also implies rickety. It’s two for the price of one! If the banister is splintery, then readers are easily able to infer that it’s also rickety.

In one thoughtful word choice, the author takes his story descriptions to the next level—and so can you!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What unique detail have you included in your story descriptions lately? Tell me in the comments!

Discover the Simple Trick for Creating Vivid Story Descriptions

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. robert easterbrook says

    I’m accused of being very visual. Oh, wait; that was you! ;p

    I take my cue from Hemingway, of course. 😉 But I doubt I’m in the same league as him.

    But how to develop that sensitivity to know just what to put in and what to leave out?

    In this, I fly by the seat of pants and hope that I’m getting it reasonably right.

    One thing I’m really good at is making some of my characters faceless in the first draft. I used to call them shadow people because they exist on the fringes of a scene and rarely stepped into the light.

    Come the second draft, if I hadn’t made a sketch of what the character looked like in my minds eye (the first time) in my trusty notebook, I was hard pressed to give them a new face. :/

    Faces are a weak area…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Finding the balance will always be a largely instinctive thing. The better our story senses, the better we will be at reflexively knowing what works and what doesn’t. But a good editor always comes in handy too!

  2. Descriptions always been my weakest point, I seemingly always forget to put it in or when I do it’s very general, definitely some advice to help out.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s fine to write a very sparse first draft. If description doesn’t come naturally to you yet, you can always just skip it while you’re getting the bones of the story out of your system. Then you can focus on it as you go back through in revisions.

  3. spacechampion says

    I like James Alan Gardner’s advice that “A descriptive passage is the story of a character’s encounter with a person, place, or thing.” Give that encounter a beginning, middle and end and that will also do double duty to reveal character.

  4. I like the idea of describing the not-so-obvious and implied adjectives. Never thought of it in that way before.

  5. What I try to do is trying to describe the new element with a sense that isn’t the first one popping to mind. So for example, in the opening of my nevel, I describe a sound with a visual description, I mean, as if I could see that sound instead of hearing it.

    Well, I don’t do this all the time, or readers would be completely confused, but I always try to do it when I want the reader to really notice an element of the story, being that a character, or a place, or an action.

  6. Great video. Really helpful. Description is also an area that I find challenging. I am always afraid of rendering the prose cumbersome by over describing things. This clarifies things a bit. Thanks.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      When in doubt, I always recommend going ahead and over-describing in the first draft. It’s best just to get it all out of our systems, then go back and edit for the best effect.

  7. Wonderful video.

    Noah Lukeman’s book, The Plot Thickens helped me lots with this advice. But you put it simply.

    I race through my first draft, not worrying about writing clichées. When rewriting I try to look beyond the obvious.

    Sol Stein’s book Stein on Writing also helped me realize this. JazzFeathers did what Stein suggests, using another of the five senses to describe what would obviously be heard or seen.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes! I love the five senses trick. Smell is my favorite, since it’s so underused and so evocative.

  8. Yes! I’m a big fan of small, succinct descriptions. Four or five words, planned well, can often sketch a scene just as vividly as fifty.

  9. Excellent advice, thank you. I regularly get good feedback from my beta readers on my descriptions, but I think this simple tweak could lift my stuff to a better level. Much appreciated!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There’s always room for improvement! That’s the great challenge of writing.

  10. One of my characters is about to slide on a pair of boots…I have him knock them together to displace a sleepy scorpion.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Great! That not only illustrates the scene (and probably the character), but also totally brings the setting to life.


  1. […] But I can give you an awesome rule of thumb for finding the detail, and that is this: All you gotta do is focus on the details that aren’t obvious, because readers will …read more […]

  2. […] Discover the Simple Trick for Creating Vivid Story Descriptions – K.M. Weiland […]

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