3-Limit adjectives. I try to choose only one, crafted word, more will distract the reader. Give them enough info to set up the canvas, but let the reader paint. Pick the one adjective that is more informative and conveys a better sense of the place. “The alley was humid, smelly, dark, and cold.” would become such a stronger sentence if you wrote, “The alley was dank and it smelled like urine. She could barely see as...”
4-Choose verbs and nouns carefully. Read a lot and help yourself with thesaurus, but before you use some ass-backward archaic word that does not jive with your narration do your research! Not all synonyms are created equal, get the flavor of a word, read it in context, google it. (Stephen King said the right word never comes from Thesaurus. I don’t know if I agree 100%, but most of the time he’s right.)
6-Show don’t tell. This is more useful for characters, but rather than saying that Annie was annoyed, let the reader infer that from a roll of her eyes. Rather than saying Jenny was beautiful, have someone blush and lower their gaze when they see her. Convey descriptions through gestures and emotions.
In the following example I only made up one character, which is harder, because I can’t have dialogue to help me. So I put in Italic her thoughts, to break the narration :)
This description is jarring. As I read it I feel like every sentence is a piece of a puzzle building the scene in my brain. I am trying to see Annie and her location and the description keeps getting in the way of me becoming Annie. Bad, bad, bad!
Better description- Annie crawled into the deserted building, her heart racing. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light she was overpowered by the dank smell dripping from the walls. Oh, god, are they closing in? She took a deep breath and stalked to the rickety stairs. Fifteen floors, and several missing steps. I can do it. I can do it.
I am Annie. I know what she thinks, what she feels, smells, sees. I want Annie to be okay. I want to keep reading.
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