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Description: How-to

Recently I put together a couple of example pieces about how to write description without dumping the information in large chunks. I thought I’d post those example pieces here for people to see the difference between a scene written one way and then the other.

Example 1

Clark turned the final corner to reach the cafe where he was meant to meet her. It was a standard building for Bath, made of the same pale stone and roofed in slate. Large Georgian style windows covered every storey but the bottom which had an open frontage sporting the Starbucks logo anywhere it would fit. Several outdoor tables and chairs littered the few feet in front of the shop.

The nearest table still had the previous occupants empty mug sitting on it, but this didn’t bother Clark. It would make him look less cheap while he waited for his date to arrive. The seat looked out over a large paved square in front of the city’s abbey, made of even older stone than the shop, but the stone had held up well over the years.

Several minutes ticked by and he glanced at his watch several times, hoping she would spot him easily when she arrived. He had tried to stand out from the crowd with his bright shirt and sunglasses. The tan on his arms and light, almost blond look to his usual brown hair would show how much he’d been in the sun lately. In short he looked like a tourist.

The waitress must have noticed. She smiled at him as she went around picking up the empty mugs left outside. It wasn’t easy to return the gesture when he realised his only line of defence against needing to order was being removed.

Thankfully, he spotted her coming out of the abbey giftshop. His eyes were drawn to her right away, Clarice Starling, a thousand times more stunning now than she had been the moment he set eyes on her photo. She strode confidently towards him, holding his gaze. Her own sunglasses were propped on her dark brown hair, letting him see her hazel eyes. She looked almost as much of a tourist as he did with her darkly tanned skin and strapped top with shorts. A rucksack slung over one shoulder finished the look.

“Drink?” he asked as she sat down to one side of him and placed her bag on the ground by her feet. She nodded.

“Tea, please. I think I’ve had enough coffee today.”

It only took him a few minutes to get their order and he quickly returned to the table, a steaming mug in one hand and an iced frappucino in the other. He didn’t know how anyone could drink a hot drink in this weather but he knew better than to question a woman’s drinking choice at this stage in the relationship. The whole while he’d been ordering he’d tried to think of ways he could show interest in her day, to help her feel like he was interested and could listen.

“Did you like it?” he asked. “In the abbey.”

“Yes. It’s a good thing I came today. It’s in use for the university graduation ceremonies all day tomorrow.”

“Good timing.” He tried not to look smug. It wasn’t something he’d ever found easy, picking a place to take a woman out and impress her, but he hoped she’d be pleased with the location he’d chosen. If not entirely romantic, in the sun it was exactly the sort of pretty he’d been hoping for. And being pleased with the day would help his cause. He’d deliberately pushed to do it today.

“You weren’t waiting here long for me, I hope?” she asked, a hint of concern flashing through her eyes. He shook his head. “Good, I’d hate you to be bored after you’d travelled this far.”

“You can always make it up to me later,” he said and gave her a wide grin.

“That might depend on what else you have planned for today?”

“Well, I thought I might take you somewhere nice and expensive for lunch, order champagne, get you drunk without you realising it and then take you back to my hotel room and take my best shot at getting you in the hot tub with me.”

She laughed and shook her head at his suggestion, but didn’t seem to mind the boldness of it. A few seconds later she downed the last of her tea.

“Alright, Mr Starling, since we’re celebrating our anniversary, I think I can let you get me drunk.”

They stood up and she tucked her arm through his, letting her lead him to the restaurant he’d picked out. He could barely believe she’d been his wife for ten years already.

Example 2

Clark turned the final corner to reach the cafe where he was meant to meet her. It was a standard building for Bath, made of the same pale stone and roofed in slate, just like the picture. The nearest table still had the previous occupants empty mug sitting on it, but this didn’t bother Clark. It would make him look less cheap while he waited for his date to arrive. As he sat down he took off his sunglasses and placed them on the table as well.

As several minutes ticked by he glanced at his watch several times, noticing there was a tan line around the strap and face. He’d worn it for so long he’d not thought to take it off.

It wasn’t long before a waitress emerged from the open plan entrance to the Georgian style building, making a beeline for all the green logo’d mugs left behind by previous customers. He watched her for a moment as she got her matching starbucks apron caught between two chairs and won him some brownie points helping her to untangle herself.

“Are you enjoying your holiday?” she asked by way of a thank you. He nodded as she picked up the mug on the table.

“Is it that obvious I’m a tourist?” he asked wanting to make some conversation. She laughed and nodded before heading back inside the grand building.

He sighed, knowing he couldn’t sit there much longer without getting a drink. Thankfully he spotted her coming out of the abbey giftshop. His eyes were drawn to her bright top and shorts right away, Clarice Starling, a thousand times more stunning now than she had been the moment he set eyes on her photo.

She strode confidently across the paved square in front of the abbey, holding his gaze. The cafe had been chosen because it would be easy to spot for her when she exited the historic building.

“Drink?” he asked as she sat down to one side of him and placed her rucksack on the ground by her feet. She nodded, and a second later he rushed forward to catch her sunglasses as they fell from the perch on her head.

“Tea, please. I think I’ve had enough coffee today,” she replied as she took them back, her hazel eyes flickering with amusement.

He shook his head at her choice of a hot drink, but was too busy pushing his floppy brown hair back from his eyes to question it.

It only took him a few minutes to get their order and he quickly returned to the table, a steaming mug in one hand and an iced frappucino in the other.

“Did you like it? In the abbey,” he asked, hoping it wouldn’t sound like he’d rehearsed it. He wanted her to know she was interesting to him, but never found it easy to use the right words.

“Yes. It’s a good thing I came today. It’s in use for the university graduation ceremonies all day tomorrow.”

“Good timing.” He tried not to look smug, but she must have spotted it.

“Thank you for persuading me to come today. You were right, today was the perfect day.”

“It’s pretty in the sun today, don’t you think?”

“Very much so, and even sort of romantic in its own way.”

He smiled and restrained the urge to fistpump the air, all the effort he’d gone to suddenly worth every second.

“You weren’t waiting here long for me, I hope?” she asked, a hint of concern flashing through her eyes. He shook his head. “Good, I’d hate you to be bored after you’d travelled this far.”

“You can always make it up to me later,” he said and gave her a wide grin.

“That might depend on what else you have planned for today?”

“Well, I thought I might take you somewhere nice and expensive for lunch, order champagne, get you drunk without you realising it and then take you back to my hotel room and take my best shot at getting you in the hot tub with me.”

She laughed and shook her head at his suggestion, but didn’t seem to mind the boldness of it. A few seconds later she downed the last of her tea.

“Alright, Mr Starling, since we’re celebrating our anniversary, I think I can let you get me drunk.”

They stood up and she tucked her arm through his, letting her lead him to the restaurant he’d picked out. He could barely believe she’d been his wife for ten years already.

While mostly I prefer to disperse description of location and charactes throughout a scene, as well as anything else that can be drip fed, neither example is perfectly right by itself. There’s always the odd occasion where getting some information to the readers in as swift and unboring a manner is necessary, often when describing something scientific or political, and then devoting a paragraph or two to giving the information can be a better way to write.