When I’m not writing, or sporadically updating this blog, I also work as a freelance editor. In a recent chat with a potential client, I asked what she thought was missing from the current draft of her novel. Can you guess what she said? Need a hint, you say? No clue, you say? Alright, alright. I’ll get to the point.

In her words, the biggest problem with her story is that it isn’t compelling…there’s too much telling and not enough showing! My reaction was a huge smile and a pat on her back because she was already far ahead of most writers. She didn’t need to be “told” that she didn’t have to “tell”. Hmm, that was a bit confusing, but you get the point (I think).

In the first part of this series, we discussed how using your senses (or those of your character) can give way to vibrant descriptions. After you’ve drained every description you can from your senses, it’s time to move on to phase two:


While using the senses gives you a  great foundation for description, sometimes you need a bit more to establish a connection with readers. This is where adding action comes into play. The addition of action to description works much like adding it to dialogue; it gives more depth to the subject described and makes it easier for readers to visualize the scene. This can be done through actions committed by the character or actions committed against them.

Let’s stick with the school setting from our previous example. Using notes from the senses section, a writer might come up with the following:

EX. It was 9am, time for class to start. A kid yelled at his friend. Tory looked at her desk. It was covered in carvings.

The observations are ok, but the key to descriptions is writing them naturally, as opposed to making a list of them. So, with that in mind, we’ll add a bit of action:

The bell shrieked, signaling the start of class. Brian Fellows ignored it  and continued his conversation with a friend on the other side of the room. Tory rolled her eyes then focused on her desk. She touched the carvings.

By allowing the characters involved to take action, we’ve created a more visceral description. Great.


There’s always a but, I know. This description of Tory’s class has already improved a ton. You could always stop here, but we won’t! In our next post, we’ll discuss how using better words can add even more life to your descriptions.


Are you working on a new writing project or can’t get a handle on the one you have? Are the descriptions weighing you down? Take a few minutes and go through a troubling passage. After applying both senses and action to the scene, post it here for feedback!

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