Once, way back in middle school, as I was talking to a good friend of mine, I brought up a girl I had introduced to her a few months before. “Oh!” she said. “You mean the girl in the yellow dress?” I frowned. Did she actually remember other people by what they were wearing? I never noticed anyone's clothes!
(As I realized later, that was probably why I had such horrible fashion sense.)
My lack of observational skills didn't end with clothing, though. To this day I will often go into the grocery store looking for one particular item, and I can find the right aisle and stare at the item for ten minutes without seeing it. I've come to accept my blindness to the world around me (a feature, not a bug, I tell myself, because if I weren't so much in my own head I wouldn't be making up stories). But the one downside for writing is that I struggle with description.
For a long, long time description has been my sore spot, the part of writing that I detested. The setting didn't matter to me. I was so much more interested in the people and what they were doing. My first novels had only the barest mentions of the characters' surroundings, and only when the outside world intruded on the action. In later novels I sketched out a little more, if only because I knew I had to, but most of the details were of the dreary, expected variety: everyday furniture in an everyday room, repetitive features on a repetitive face.
But finally in the past year I've begun to enjoy description. I love picking out the unique details that bring a setting to life. Description has become a hunt for the unexpected and a personal challenge to find the one piece that says more than a hundred other words could.
So when one of my critique partners wrote the following about chapter one of Unmade, I was pretty excited: “I thoroughly enjoyed your initial descriptions of the neighborhood... the fact that you used more than one sense to describe her surroundings... Deftly done and all good stuff.” Yay! If I'm finally learning to put these things in the first draft, I must be making progress.
How about you? Do you love description? Hate it? What are your tricks for making it pop?