Appeal to the reader’s sense of sight so they can imagine what the scene looks like.
“After years of heavy smoking, the once-white walls in her living room were now the colour of a torched crem-brulee.”
As long as the reader knows what crème brulee looks like, they now have a very accurate description of how the living room walls appear.
Write for the reader’s hearing senses so they can imagine what sounds are going on.
“George woke to the sound of his Labrador barking, deep and loud, repeatedly and angrily, at the neighbour’s cat standing on the opposite side of the window.”
It helps us imagine the sound now we know its pitch and volume.
Be aware: onomatopoeia can be effective – perhaps a burst tyre can hiss or blood can gargle – but don’t use it gratuitously – only if it adds extra detail to your description.
Think about what scents and smells are going on. You can even cause a physical reaction with this one! Particularly if you’re describing food because you can get the reader’s mouth to water. For instance:
“As I lifted my slice of pizza from the box, that rich, creamy smell of four melted cheeses – together with the sweet, sticky smell of buffalo-chicken – sent my tastebuds gushing.”
Adding some detail about the smells in the scene helps place the reader there and makes it much more realistic.
If the person in your description is eating, what tastes can you describe?
“The roasted hazelnut mixed with the flavour of dark chocolate. It was sweet, and bitter, with a slight aftertaste of wood – that same taste you get when you bite the top of a pencil.”
Be creative, using your own experiences to help express your ideas.
What do the objects in your scene feel like? Is the blanket someone’s sat on slightly itchy and course; is the ticket they’re holding slightly waxy; is the snowball they’re holding so cold that it feels numb to begin with, then turns slightly wet, and suddenly it feel like hundreds of needles are going into their skin as the cold sets in? We’ve all felt these sensations, so almost everyone can relate to these feelings.
Another example here:
“I was expecting it to be wet and slimy, but as the snake moved on my palm it was surprisingly dry and incredibly smooth – like a well-polished wooden banister.”
You can also immerse your reader by using personification to bring some of these senses to life a bit more.
- The wheels screamed
- The trees trembled
- The dog danced enthusiastically
- The fire swallowed the whole building
- The mountains bullied and intimidated the valley underneath
You could even make your landscape an extra ‘character’ in your description.
Here’s an example by Emily Dickenson to show how effective that can be:
“When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath,”