10 Dec Among the Detail
I’m reading John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This is the first line: ‘He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed moustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine – he could see out, but you couldn’t see in.’
True, it’s a long first sentence, but I could instantly imagine and know what sort of person this is. Why? The answer lies in the detail. When you’re describing someone, especially a person who is a character in your work, you need to hone in on their essence through the telling details. Too many will obscure; too few will render the person opaque.
New York Gotham Writers’ School puts it like this: ‘Convincing details are specific – not only specific, but specific in a way that makes them seem true.’ If you get the right combination, the reader will see that character in their mind.
So three tips to make your descriptions compelling: Use all five senses. Play with literary devices: metaphors & similes can bring a place or person alive. * Keep using strong verbs and strong nouns. Avoid too many adjectives or adverbs.
P.S Are Berendt’s adverbs needed? Over to you….