Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Writing Layers – Description

As I learned and grew as a writer, I went back over and over my novel to add more layers to it. In this series I'm writing about each of my 'layers' in the hope it will help someone who is starting out. This week we look at description.


I like dialogue, and get really absorbed when I'm writing it. But in my dialogue most action stops while people are talking. It's as if the people talking are in a bubble. The next layer I discovered was description, and not just for dialogue.

My son asked me what the bridge on my ship looked like. I had no idea. How many seats and where were they placed in relation to each other? When the Captain speaks to the communications officer, does he turn right or left? If you remember the original Star Trek series, Uhura sat behind Captain Kirk, so he had to turn round to speak to her. It all adds to the colour and depth of the story.

Not only the bridge, I had never thought about the layout of the ship and where the different rooms were. How do you get from the mess hall to sick bay? Where's the Captain's room, when he summons you? For that matter, how many rooms does the Kestrel need to accommodate her crew? I had to draw a plan.


You should describe your characters too, without them looking in mirror, which is very lame. Drop in the colour of their eyes as they look at someone or their height when they meet someone - do they tower over them or have to look up?

And describe your settings. Whether the scene is mostly action or dialogue, readers want to be able to visualise it. Is the room dark or bright, dingy or clean, poor or sumptuous? Is it summer or winter - the weather can make a big difference. Since I write science fiction, my readers need even more help, because there are aliens and alien planets and futuristic technology. The aliens have their own cultures which can cause misunderstandings and offense.

New cultures and new environments can create their own subplots too, which I talked about last week. My heroine Tabitha comes from a heavy-gravity planet. How does she cope on board Kestrel, which has Earth-normal gravity of 1G? And what about zero gravity, which she encounters later? There is an Altairian in the crew, who comes from lighter gravity, so he has to wear a back brace to cope with 1G, but can almost fly in low gravity and is beautiful to watch. [See what I mean?]

And what do your characters do when they are speaking? Watch people when you're out - it's a great pastime. What can you tell from their mannerisms and facial expressions? In fact, watch everything, because you're going to need to describe it one day!

Other posts in this series:Introduction
Feelings & SensesStructure

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