There are lots of ways to describe people. You can be direct, stating the color of their hair and eyes. You can describe their aura, the way they make those around them feel. You can compare them to other people, items, or occurrences in nature. You can choose one of these methods or all of them. You can include all of this information in a large block, or scatter it throughout a scene.
I don’t think one method of description is better than another, but there are certainly times that one might be a better choice. In short stories, you might settle for less description, and have it all in one place. But in a longer work, you have time for a slow reveal. There doesn’t need to be a whole page describing each character, because that character is going to be around long enough that we can get to know them through their behavior. Physical traits can be revealed one by one, throughout the story.
The same goes with description of setting. I had a really hard time getting into “The Scarlet Letter” and I feel like that started from the beginning when a whole page was spent talking about a rose-bush. Why did I care about a rose-bush? I would have been much more interested if that bush had brief reoccurring scenes throughout the action of the plot.
Some people don’t like description at all, saying it gets in the way of the action, but I think that even they need descriptive phrases and cues, they just prefer small bursts as opposed to large blocks. After all, great writing helps you feel like you’re in a different place, seeing things happen. You can’t feel that way if you don’t know what the settings and people look like.
How do you prefer description? Do you have a difference in what you like to read and how you write it? Do you ever write large blocks of description and then break them up and sprinkle them throughout the story? Share your strategies below!