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Find Your Voice

Find Your Voice is an advice column focusing on writing style. Linda Lee Bower, our Writer in Residence offers some pointers on how to use words effectively to cast a spell on the reader.
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Writing Exciting Descriptions

Descriptions in your fiction need to grab the reader. You shouldn't just tell the reader what someone or something is like; you should show them. For example, in a certain novel, which we will not name, a bad guy is thwarted in his attempt to waylay the heroine. This is how the author describes him at this moment: "He was very angry."

Compare this with another novel, The Fifth Horseman. In one scene, a Detective First Grade of the New York Police Department is thwarted in his attempt to get information from a suspect. The description of him at this moment goes something like this: "He turned the key so hard, it nearly broke off in the ignition, then he burned twenty feet of rubber as he screeched out of the parking lot. The attendant stood amazed. 'Man, he ain't gonna get where he's going, drivin' like that.'" Which one is more interesting? No contest! In the second example, nowhere does it say that he was angry, but you get the picture.

You frequently see something like this in a novel: "She was obviously very nervous," or "He was obviously impatient." What makes it obvious? It is better to show the nervousness or the impatience. For example:

"She played with her napkin, shredding the edges and finally folding it into a tight little wad."
"He slammed his palm on the steering wheel and cursed the redhead in the Cougar who cut in front of him."

Make every word count.
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