It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. - Seneca

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Make Your Words Come Alive on Paper...


By Eliza Knight

As writers of fiction, we have to make the stories we see so vividly in our minds come alive on paper. The setting, the characters, the action—all of it needs to pop, to play as if a movie inside your reader’s head. It’s all in the details right?

A word of warning, detail is good, but avoid too much detail and avoid using too many adjectives to describe something. You may ask, “What is too much detail?” Too much detail is an entire page of scenery description.  Give us a few sentences, maybe a paragraph, but do not devote a page to what the character’s surroundings look like.  Too much detail is telling us how the character’s dinner was prepared in more than two or three sentences—if that type of information is even relevant at all.  Too much detail can also lend to “feeding” or “leading” the reader—meaning you are explaining in great detail why your character is doing something.  Show your reader, slowly let the character’s motivations seep into the mind of the reader as they continue to flip through the pages of your book. In other words, don’t overdo it. Too much detail is giving us the minute by minute run down of the character’s entire day.

The best way to make your stories come alive on paper is through your use of description. There are several different types of description, and a few different ways to use them:

~Actionactive narrative (showing the reader what is happening); dialogue; POV character’s internal thoughts/reactions.

An action scene is when things are happening. It’s not a reflective period, something is going on, the story is moving forward. Things are changing. The best thing you can do in an action scene is show the reader what is happening. Let the scene unfold, use the emotions, use internal thoughts, use action description. Make sure you aren’t being passive in your action scenes. Passive words like, felt, saw, heard, look, watch can be replaced to show the reader what is happening rather than telling them.

~Scenery/Settingnarrative (sometimes perhaps in dialogue, but you should really be using dialogue to move the story along, not describe the setting.

Where is your story taking place?  Time?  Make sure you know your setting just as well as you know your characters.  If you’re going to make your story pop, so your reader can visualize it, you need to own that setting.  Before you even write, maybe jot down a few sentences about what a key place looks like – the drawing room, the great hall, an office, street corner, courthouse, ship, yard, whatever it is.  See it in your mind, and transfer that to paper.  Do your research, it shows when you don’t.  I like to find pictures, websites, books, visit if I can, the places my stories take place in.  Paste the pictures on a wall near your workshops so you can look up and see them. Have you ever tried GoogleEarth™?  It’s awesome!  I did a story that took place in modern day Paris.  I used the software to see what a specific street and building looked like.  Try it!!!

~Sensorynarrative; action; dialogue; deep internal POV

Make use of sensory detail, vivid detail and description.  What are the sights, smells, sounds? What does your character feel physically. Do they taste anything? The reader wants to be in the book, be the character or be the character’s shadow. Let them do this by feeling as though they are in the book.

~Physical Charactersnarrative; deep internal POV

When writing, and you want to put in the character’s physical description save it for the POV of the other character.  It will make more of an impact too, because it gives you a chance to establish physical attraction if it’s done with the hero or heroine.

Now if you want to have the character describe themselves, do it in a way that is believable and real.  She may look in the mirror, as she pins her blonde curls into place.  Or she may be lining green eyes with mascara, hoping to bring out the color.  He may be shaving or making sure his suit fits, or maybe he sees his reflection in the steel of elevator doors.


Make use of the thesaurus. I LOVE using the thesaurus. You can come up with so many different words for sensory details, descriptive details, etc… Makes your writing more interesting than if said the same words over and over and over and over and over and you get it :-)

Above all, make sure your scene is vivid, that your reader can see what is happening, feels as though they are inside, that you are showing rather than telling. Use description to your advantage. You can make a scene dark, humorous, sensual, tragic, set the tone, the mood, pull at the heartstrings of your reader or make them spitting mad—all with your use of description.

Happy Writing!



Eliza Knight is the multi-published, award-winning author of sizzling historical romance and erotic romance. While not reading, writing or researching for her latest book, she chases after her three children. In her spare time (if there is such a thing…) she likes daydreaming, wine-tasting, traveling, hiking, staring at the stars, watching movies, shopping and visiting with family and friends. She lives atop a small mountain, and enjoys cold winter nights when she can curl up in front of a roaring fire with her own knight in shining armor. Visit Eliza at or her historical blog, History Undressed, which was recently mentioned in a feature article in The Wall Street Journal.


Brenna Ash said...

Thanks for all the great tips, Eliza!

Chicks of Characterization said...

Eliza- Blogger is being a PAIN and one of our commenters couldn't post- so I am doing it for her!

Erin asks-
Eliza - I am interested in "deep internal pov" and want to know if you can expand on that subject.


Eliza Knight said...

You're welcome, Brenna :)

Eliza Knight said...

Hi Erin,

I'd be happy too. Deep internal pov is when we're really inside the character's head. We know what they are thinking, feeling. They are examining their goals, motivation, conflicts, what has happened thus far, what they will do, what is impeding them. This is the ultimate in letting your reading "in."

Here is a short example from my novella, HIGHLAND STEAM:

Drostan could not help his anger, his frustration. His entire world had fallen this morning. He wanted nothing more than to attack the Campbells for what they’d done but he had no proof. Just the tale of a nearby sheepherder who’d seen the Campbell colors as they’d fled.

Does that help?

Vonda Sinclair said...

Fantastic post, Eliza!!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Waving Eliza. Another great post. :) I am in the process of doing just what you suggested into my story. Always good to get a refresher course.

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