Don’t leave reader in fog with vague descriptions

As a storyteller, you want to draw readers into your tale so that they vicariously live out the action. One way to achieve that is by providing evocative descriptions of the setting or action. Not providing that likely will leave readers in a fog, in which they cannot clearly visualize where the story occurs or what is happening.

An example of fog (a term coined by CSFW’s David Smith) might be:

Peter entered the dark farmhouse.

The passage leaves readers asking many questions. Just how dark is the farmhouse? Why is the farmhouse dark? What is the significance of the farmhouse being dark? How did he enter the farmhouse? A reader may not ask these questions aloud, but they linger in her unconsciousness. Passages like the one above simply are too generalized for readers to really imagine the setting. Too many such passages disconnect readers from the story.

One solution is to appeal to the readers’ five senses by offering descriptions of the farmhouse. When sounds, scents, and tactile details are included, readers can more easily immerse themselves into the scene. In addition, though dark does appeal to the sense of sight, it is too nebulous of a word to give a clear picture of the scene, so using more precise wording also can resolve the problem.

For example, the above passage could be rewritten as:

As the farmhouse’s screen door creaked open, the morning’s luster gave way to a stained brown like that of withered mustard seed.