Fantasy Writing for the Description Impaired

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I have a confession to make: I’m not good at description. At least not in my first drafts. The movie-in-my-head plays an extreme close-up of the main characters. I get caught up in the dialogue and often end up with two talking heads in a white room.

And yet, I love reading fantasy. I love learning new magic systems and being transported to enchanting new places. Who can forget the haunted ruined city of Shadar Logoth in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, or the monstrous wall of ice in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones? Wouldn’t you love to vacation in Tolkien’s Shire?

When I started the second draft of Gate to Kandrith, I knew I had to add more description, but I found myself dragging my feet and, okay, whining about it. It had to be done, but it felt painful. Dull. Boring.

And if I, the writer, was bored, how was my poor reader going to feel?

Finally, I realized my setting felt tired because I’d read hundreds of novels with those same descriptions of grimy medieval taverns and giant golden gates. My solution? To really take advantage of writing about a fantasy world and devise settings that felt fresh and new. Instead of my heroine being chased down a clichéd alleyway, she’s pursued through a statuary mouth into the courtyard of the Temple of Malice, which oozes with black mud and is full of sharpened stakes to wound the unwary. Instead of being attacked on the road, Sara and Lance are standing on a stone slab in the middle of a waterfall when unfriendly Qiph tribesmen show up with swords. The Gate to Kandrith became a claustrophobic narrow gorge passing between two mountains. Even the inn they stayed at became a Temple of Jut, God of Travellers.

Sure, it was more work, but it was worth it.

What settings are you tired of? What fantasy novels have you read with great scenery?

Click here to buy Gate to Kandrith:

RT Book Reviews 4 1/2 stars: “Filled with plotlines that range from political to fantastical, the adventure is what truly keeps readers engrossed…”

Nicole Luiken wrote her first novel at age 13. She is the author of eight YA novels, this is her first adult fantasy. She is hard at work on the sequel to Gate to Kandrith.

11 thoughts on “Fantasy Writing for the Description Impaired”

  1. Michelle says:

    Great Post!!! I always love your novels … Wish YOU The Best.

  2. Oh, good point! This got me thinking, thanks!

  3. Ashley Harris says:

    Can’t wait to read this, wow what a great blog and description above. You are the best YA author out there, excited to read your adult fantasy novel!!!

  4. Michelle and Ashley: Thanks!
    Charlie: glad if I helped.

  5. I love reading YA as well as romance and fantasy. Great blog. Looking forward to reading this one. I think the last semi-fantasy book I read was The Hunger Games. I thought it was very well descriptive and the imagery was fresh (but I’d never read a dystopian before). Altered Destiny by Shawna Thomas was also great.

  6. My favorite fantasy place would either be Rivendell or Rohan in Lord of the Rings – both appeal to me for different reasons. I’d like to visit Lothlorien but I’m afraid of heights so I’d have to stay at tree root level LOL! Interesting post, enjoyed it very much!

  7. Angela: I just saw The Hunger Games movie and LOVED the decadent Capital setting, especially the bizarre and fabulous clothes. (And Seneca’s beard)

  8. Alfvaen says:

    It makes me think of the game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind I’ve been playing a lot recently, where some towns have houses in huge mushrooms, and towers where you can’t even get in without levitating, and a town where the whole manor district is inside a giant crab. You’ve got to keep it fresh.

  9. Tia Nevitt says:

    I must admit, I never tire of the cliche settings. But your book sounds great! I am another one who tends to skimp on description during first drafts. My rough drafts are so rough that I’m always daunted at the thought of finishing them.

    Alfvaen–I love Morrorwind! Much better than Oblivion! Can’t wait to try Skyrim.

  10. Kristina says:

    I really enjoyed not having the cliche settings. I thought many of the different things were brilliant and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

  11. escort bayan says:

    I love that video! I get goose bumps and tears in my eyes every time I watch it.


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