Have you ever read a book whose language was so lush, so vivid, so incredibly realistic that you felt, even just for a moment, that the characters, places, and events of the book must actually be real? That’s total reader immersion, right there. The holy grail of writing. To be able to, with a few words, make someone feel as though they were really there, in your story, alongside your characters. To let them actually experience exactly what it feels like to cast a spell, to fly, or to touch a dragon’s scales. So that once they are done with your book, they will never be the same. They will wear red scarves over black-and-white outfits and go to circuses. They will buy wands and drink Butterbeer. They will go to book launch parties, dressed in their midnight best. They will read your books by day, and dream of your worlds by night.
With solid description-writing skills, you can do that. You can do more than tell a story: you can bring it to life. All it takes is a little practice. And since you're practicing . . . here are a few do's and don'ts it may help to keep in mind, inspired by some of my favorite descriptions in fantasy fiction.
DO Read It Out Loud
“It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”--The Name of the Wind
Have you ever heard a poem in a language you don’t understand? It is fascinating, how even without knowing the language, you can often understand the emotion behind the poem, just from the sound and pacing of the words. Good description is like that. Try saying these words out loud: susurrus, balk, encrusted. Each of these words has a sound that extends beyond its definition in a dictionary. The sound, shape, and length of their sounds carry associations. Are they short, staccato sounds? Sibilant and hissing? What does it say, if you use smooth, liquid sounding words to describe a brutal act? Or clipped precise words to describe a dance? Choose your words carefully, and you can convey emotion as eloquently as the soundtrack in a movie.