How much is too much? How much is too little? What do I do if description isn't my strong point?
These are a few of the questions I asked myself when I was first starting to write. I still ask them sometimes, especially when editing a rough draft, but what I've learned over the years is that these questions kind of miss the point when it comes to description.
Description is more than just a laundry list of facts strung together to offer readers more information about the world you are bringing them into. Done correctly, offering description tells the reader more about the Perspective character, or narrator. It doesn't stop there, however. Description is also a wonderful place to establish voice and style. It's not only the factoids you offer that matter, it's how you offer them.
So, what do you do if description isn't your strong point? How do you train yourself to improve?
I could just say practice and leave it at that. In the end, that's what it amounts to, but I like to be more specific than that.
Whether you do this with practice pieces, choosing a topic at random and apply it, in a rough draft as you are writing, or during your first edit of your rough draft, one method I've found that helps me to dramatically improve descriptive paragraphs, is to start with a list.
I keep a scene in my head and I simply start by trying to imagine some things that I would like to include in my description, whether these are just nouns, nouns modified with adjectives (When I use adjectives, if they are not creative, I omit them) or short phrases, I write them down before writing my descriptive paragraph.
It's a simple little exercise and it has worked well to help me write better descriptive paragraphs (Even though I've done this for quite some time, I still consider scene and character descriptions an uphill climb for me). But I also find that my ability to come up with more stylish descriptive prose has greatly improved since I first started writing.
Try it yourself and see. Instead of just barging directly into writing a descriptive paragraph, start by making a list of things you want your paragraph to include before writing it.