Authors, I went from writing four non-fiction books, back-to-back; to working on my first psychological thriller. Fiction is significantly different from writing non-fiction. One of the biggest differences is the amount of descriptive language that needs to be used. Putting it plainly: There are WAY more words involved, which means, a bit more work. But it doesn't mean it's more stressful.
When writing non-fiction, you want to be a little descriptive, but the point is to get all of the necessary content directly to the reader. It’s pretty cut and dry. You don’t want to prolong it, unless a specific area calls for it. By contrast, when writing fiction, you want to be as descriptive as possible.
When writing a fiction book, you want to take the reader into a different space. You want the reader of your book to experience everything in the book as if they were right there. To do that, you must engage the reader’s imagination.
What does that look like?
In order to engage a reader’s imagination, you would need to appeal to the things they have when reading: Their senses.
When appealing to your reader, you want to appeal to one to two of their five senses per description. Sometimes you may get away with one; sometimes you may need to use more. But a good rule of thumb is to try to appeal to two senses per description. (Also a good rule of thumb is to try to include analogies.)
Let’s look at a few examples:
Let’s say in your story, Janet is sitting outside eating a burger. We don’t want to just saying “Janet was sitting outside eating a burger.” (Though this is okay if you are writing a children’s book, as you want to be pretty straightforward in children’s books for length.) So what else could we say to engage the reader in a way that allows them to feel like they are right there in the story. Let’s see how we can put our reader in the moment.
“Janet was so hungry. She barely made it to the patio with her plate. As soon as she sat down, she took a huge bite out of her burger. The cheese had melted just right, and the grease was already making her hands slippery. The medley of season salt, pepper, onion, and bell pepper mixed perfectly in the ground beef. It had been so long since she ate, she hardly swallowed before taking another enormous bite.”
Did that paragraph put you in the mindset of Janet? Was it more engaging to read than “Janet is sitting outside eating a burger?” I’d say probably so. Why? Because this paragraph gave more detail on a small sentence. It brought you in to the mindset of Janet and what she was experiencing.
This is the type of thing you want to consider when writing a fiction book. There needs to be significantly more detail in most areas of the book to draw the reader in.
We don’t only want to use this concept to describe actions and situations though; you always want to ensure the reader can feel the emotions of your character. Let’s take the first line of the previous paragraph.
“Janet was so hungry.”
How can we describe the hunger here to the reader? Well this is where you bring in analogies. Analogies are ways to describe one thing by referencing something else. This is where you appeal to the readers own emotions and feelings.
Tip: Try to use references that the reader is most likely to understand. Try to use things that are pretty universal.
So let’s engage the reader with Janet’s hunger.
“Janet felt as if her belly button was touching her spine. The deep rumbling of her stomach was like that of thunder rolling across the night sky. The cramps were starting to take over her thoughts, and if she didn’t eat soon, she was sure she would pass out based on the tiny spinning motion the inside of her head had started to do.”
Here, analogies were given, like thunder rolling, and there was even more description on the things she was feeling. Her head was spinning; her stomach was cramping, etc.
Now you try. Don’t forget to add analogies, especially for emotions and feelings, and descriptions that appeal to at least two senses.
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Need extra practice? Use the sentence below and come up with your descriptive narrative and share it in the comments below.
“Eric was swimming.”