Question: I have a plot, all my characters and the world they live in but when it comes to describing my characters and my world, I find it either is a very short, sometimes generic description or it turns into a cliche. Can anyone give me some advice about this problem?
Essentially, what makes description come alive is specificity. It is the specific details that create a feeling of authenticity and make your characters, their perspective, and their world unique.
Take a look at how you are describing things. Look for any words that seem general or vague. Try to replace them with more specific terms.
Look for words that summarize or represent conclusions about the thing being described. Then try to replace these words with evidence that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.
For example, rather than simply say a character is "fat," which is a conclusion, give the evidence that would support that conclusion. Perhaps you describe the pallid flesh spilling out over the top of their pants and covering their groin, the bulbous neck, the thighs textured like cold oatmeal, etc.
Rather than say a house was "spooky," tell us about the decaying gingerbread under the eaves, the peeling paint, the smell of dust and dry rot, the steep and creaking stairs, the textured shadows created by the light spilling through the slits in the boarded up windows etc.
say a neighbourhood was "upper-class," tell us about the neatly trimmed lawns tended by teams of gardeners, the gleaming sports cars and tank-sized SUVs in each driveway, and the granite trimmed swimming pools. Describe the architecture in detail, so that the readers can conclude for themselves what type of people must live in such houses.
It also helps to do a little research. Look for pictures and descriptions of places that you want to use as models for your settings, or of people who resemble your characters. Use these as sources of unique details.
Even better, visit such places yourself or observe people. Avoid making snap judgments or conclusions and pay attention to the evidence your senses bring you. This will help you find unique details you can incorporate into your descriptions rather than using cliches (which are short-cuts that avoid in-depth observation).
Remember too that description not only tells us about places and characters but about the attitude of the narrator. If you are writing from a particular character's perspective, he or she will notice things another character would not. He will judge or interpret things differently.
For example, to one person a theme park will be magical and exciting, to another it will be kitschy and boring, to another it may seem manipulative or even sinister. So your description should illustrate the character's unique response to what he perceives.
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