Description is vital to world building. You need some setting, at least a quick sketch to show readers where your characters are and what’s happening. How characters describe their surroundings can also be a clue as to something unusual. Does the protagonist focus on smell over color (Rada Ni Drako?) Do they focus on the sound of places, hearing the passageway narrow?
The more descriptors you have in your toolbox, the better you can do at conveying things to your readers. Especially when you need to write short.
Eldred “Bob” Bird over at Writers in the Storm as a neat little piece about the power of description and how to do it “short.”He begins:
“I liken the writing process to using different boxes of crayons. Remember when you were a kid and got the big sixty-four color pack with the sharpener in the bottom? You could draw whole worlds in amazing detail with the color palette provided by that box. That’s novel writing, with its infinite possibilities and wide open spaces.”
He later gives four quick tips.
- Focus on those verbs. These are action words that can do the powerlifting.
- Keep it simple. Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five dollar word when a fifty cent word will do.”
- Readers are drawn toward words with strong consonants.
- Alliteration—using words with the same beginning sound—is another powerful technique.
You need punch in a short story. Every word has to carry its own weight and more. That makes writing short difficult. You need words with a lot of meaning, but not too much. Sometimes words have connotations that don’t quite fit your world. Or the absolutely perfect word in the dictionary might be so unusual, archaic, arcane, or sesquipedalian that your readers are going to boggle (unless your character always talks like that. If so, you have my sympathies.)
My beta readers bemoan the extra, ahem, stuff that finds its way into my drafts. I’m not quite James Joyce when it comes to my characters daily life, but I’m getting used to seeing “Is this scene really needed” over and over and over.
So go forth, expand your vocabulary, and try to write bright, clear, strong sentences.