Words are the author’s greatest tool to build a good story and when simple words or thoughts are highlighted with descriptive words they can become very powerful suggestions. Authors can influence readers and bring them into their emotional control through words that captivate and persuade.
Words added to a simple thought can literally convince the reader to think like the author. A good example is the sentence, “It is raining”. From this we learn two things – that the weather is now producing rain and that it’s happening in the present tense. We have no idea how hard it’s raining, how long it might last, what fears or anxieties are being caused by it or what anticipations are triggering the reader’s emotions because of it. All we know is that it is raining.
We can add words to persuade the reader to feel the emotions we want them to feel.
“My heart pounded with excitement as the summer sky quickly gathered the clouds and gently released warm drops that danced on the grass all around me and tickled my skin.”
From this sentence we can feel the romantic attitude of the protagonist and we can sense that the anticipation of the rain has brought forth a relief and a calmness that makes her happy.
“My heart pounded with fear as the rumbling skies quickly became dark, aggressive clouds that pitched chilling rain pellets on the grass all around me and pricked my skin like millions of tiny spikes.”
This example turns the rain into a threatening storm that scares the protagonist, and we can sense that fear through the descriptive – or persuasive – words.
Many authors don’t use descriptive words to their advantage – to captivate the reader. A perfect example is when they use ambiguous or generic words to describe something that could draw the reader deeper into the picture with more description.
We know that Sarah saw a beautiful garden, but what does “beautiful” entail? The option is wide open to lure readers into something that will leave them wanting more of what the author has to say. When there is no description it stops there because the word “beautiful” does not paint a picture in the mind.
“Sarah peeked through the iron gate and gasped at the beauty of the rose garden that was hidden on the other side. Large white trellises covered in deep green foliage with vibrant red and pink and yellow flowers lined the back fence. Short single bushes of white and lavender were spread around the old wooden garden swing. The arbour was covered in deep, red blooms and planters spread along the short path were filled with orange and pink roses. She inhaled the intriguing fragrance and then ran home.”
As readers, we now have a better picture of what “beautiful” is. We see the rainbow of colors; we note the majesty of the garden and its size; and our senses are aroused to appreciate the alluring rose fragrance from the page. Readers need descriptive words to paint the picture so they can imagine it in their own minds.
At the same time, we don’t want to swing too far with the pendulum and add too many descriptive words because that will cause confusion and boredom.
“The drive was really, really long and it was so boring and totally uninteresting, and I hated being in the small, overcrowded little car for such a long period of time.”
The author has possibly broken the thought pattern through the use of redundant descriptive words.
“I hated the long and boring drive in the little, overcrowded car.”
The words are easier to read as they flow from the tongue and everything that was needed to be said was said in fewer words.
We don’t want to write paragraphs of description because that will steal from the captivation of the story and will prevent the reader from staying on the path that we’ve set out for them. As well, we don’t want to add too many adjectives to describe one thing or incident because it’s a story, not an English essay.
What we want to do is give enough description to keep the readers caught up with the story so that they won’t want to put the book down. We want them to feel what we want them to feel, and to see what we want them to see and to react how we want them to react by adding some selective descriptive words – persuasive words that bring our thoughts to life in a world that the reader can live in.