Fiction writers—one of the fastest ways to bring your story world and characters to life is to portray the setting through the senses, feelings, reactions, and attitude of your protagonist.
Besides the obvious problem of too much description for this age group (or for any popular novel these days), this authorial, “grownup” way of describing their environment would not only turn off young readers, but also create a distance between any reader and these two modern-day kids. As a reader and editor, I didn’t feel like I was getting to know these kids at all, as I wasn’t seeing their world through their eyes, but directly from the author, who obviously knew her interior design terms and flora and fauna! Through this unchildlike, out-of-character description of their environment, the author puts a barrier between us and the two kids. If we don’t get into their heads and hearts, seeing their world as they see it, how will we get to know them and bond with them, and why will we care what happens to them?
I advise my author clients to not only show us directly what the characters are seeing around them, in their words, but to bring the characters and story to life on the page by evoking all the senses. Tell us what they’re hearing and smelling, too. And touching/feeling – the textures of things, and whether they’re feeling warm or cold, wet or dry. Even the odd taste. And don’t forget mood—how does that setting make them feel? Emotionally uplifted? Fearful? Warm and cozy? Include telling details specific to that place, and have the characters react to their environment, whether it’s shivering from the cold, in awe of a gorgeous sunset, or afraid of the dark. Bring that scene to life through your characters’ reactions.
As Donald Maass says, in Writing the Breakout Novel, “Place presented from an objective or omniscient point of view runs the risk of feeling like boring descriptive. It can be a lump, an impediment to the flow of the narrative.”
He continues, “Do you have plain vanilla description in your current manuscript? Try evoking the description the way it is experienced by a character. Feel a difference? So will your readers.”
James Scott Bell also advises us to “marble” the description of the environment in during the action. “The way to do this is to put the description in the character’s point of view and use the details to add to the mood.”
Jack M. Bickham gets more specific on this: “When you start a scene in which Bob walks into a large room, for example, you do not imagine how the room looks from some god-like authorial stance high above the room, or as a television camera might see it; you see it only as Bob sees it, coming in….”
And include what he’s feeling, hearing, and smelling, too. Filter the scene through his perceptions and feelings. “This leads to reader identification with Bob, which is vital if the reader is to have a sense of focus.”
Fiction writers – what’s your preference? Describe the settings of your story from the author’s (omniscient) point of view, or filtered through the POV character’s perceptions and reactions?
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction, as well as YA and historical fiction. Check out Jodie’s website
Posted by Maryann Miller who agrees that descriptions should come from the character's POV.