- Action, dialogue, interior monologue, and other narrative elements can be rendered descriptive by word choice.
- These elements can also be made descriptive by slowing down the speed at which the events are related.
- These elements can also be made descriptive by demonstrating the way the characters respond to or interact with the details
- This form of "descriptive writing" is not the same thing as "description."
I also want to frontpage one of the ideas in the comments. We discussed what might be called the Mystery Clue Exception. Think of it this way. The general rule is to allocate space in the narrative which is roughly equivalent to the importance of the detail being presented. Important details get more words or lines. But if we did that with clues in mysteries, we would give it all away. In those cases, we want to minimize the space (and downplay the presentation) of the important detail and throw the reader's focus onto other matters.
With that said, let's take a look at some of the embellished sentences. The original sentence was,
The man walked through the snow to get his mail.
Some of you chose to embellish the man with an adjective:
The young man, The old man (Murphy)
The blond man (Livia)
The young man (Jami G.)
The gnarled man (Iapetus999)
The old man (Dominique)
The leather-faced man (Rachel)
And some of you chose to substitute a different noun, something more evocative than plain old man.
The minister (Dave Shaw)
The pensioner (John Harper)
In general, which is better? That depends. The substitute nouns are genderless, so if the sex of the character is relevant (or if it hasn't been previously established otherwise), using a plain noun like man or woman will be a good choice. If you do this and add an adjective, remember that descriptiveness is the goal. Which of those adjectives gives you a fast, unique visual impression of the man? I lean toward gnarled and leather-faced, both of which are strongly evocative and concrete.
But if the gender has already been established, tagging the character with a social role such as minister or pensioner will give the reader a way to understand the nature of the character in a slightly less visual way. There may still be visual elements -- pensioners are generally elderly, and ministers tend to wear those collars. But in this case, the descriptive element is about the nature of the character rather than the strict visual presentation.
Special tip of the hat #1:
The elderly trapper (Dave Shaw)
Here, Dave combined both approaches, using a role-based noun and padding it with an adjective. It's a trapper -- a job title that carries connotations of outdoorsiness, maybe burliness or other indications of physical strength, maybe jeans and flannels and boots. The adjective is the right kind of adjective, too, providing a layer of detail not implied by the original noun. It's a strong combination.
Special tip of the hat #2:
Lisa's brother (Suelder)
Here, Suelder used a noun that states a relationship, brother, and then created the relationship with the use of the possessive. It's not just any brother, it's Lisa's brother, and now we all know who we're talking about. So this is something like the social role nouns of trapper and minister, but it's enhanced by the stated relationship to another character. It might not be a highly visual subject, but remember that we're not talking about pure description but about "descriptiveness." By presenting this relationship between the characters, we know something we might not have known before. So this is a very effective subject, but it should be used sparingly. Once the relationship is made clear for the reader, we wouldn't want to keep seeing it detailed in the narrative.
Before we move on to other aspects of the exercise sentences, I want to toss out a question for discussion. Let's say that generally we have the following choices for our subject:
adjective + generic noun
"social role" noun
adjective + social role noun
Let's also assume that a proper name is not an option. How does the context influence which of these three options to choose?