The Description Hack: Active Sight Guest Post By Author Cal Logan

I’m welcoming author Cal Logan to the eBook Review Gal website today. Cal stopped by to chat about descriptive writing. He has some great advice to share with readers so let’s get started!



Do you struggle with writing description? I do. And frankly, it embarrasses me a little when I think about it. I’m a writer. Creating vivid imagery is probably the number one skill a writer needs next to literacy in general.  Yet if I’m not careful, my scenes are all action and dialogue with little to no visual context to set the scene and give the reader a strong mental picture. Perhaps some of you are the same way.

I’m going to share with you a tactic I use to improve upon this skill deficiency. First, let’s more clearly define the problem. I can think of compelling words and phrases just fine. If it’s in front of me, I can usually put it into words. Unfortunately, the things in my stories aren’t in front of me, or even real, so I don’t have a concrete image to fall back on. I have a hard time developing mental pictures of certain aspects of my story. And if I can’t imagine it, I can’t describe it.

However, this little trick goes a long way towards helping. The next time you’re watching the city drift by on your commute, sitting in a waiting room, drinking a steaming cup of Joe on a chilly morning, tap into your surroundings and describe them in your head. It’s that simple. Focus on a few details that stand out to you.

For example, on a particular segment of the train ride home yesterday, I noticed that several of the brick buildings on one side of the street were a cheery, rosy sort of color, while the buildings on the other side were a dusty, faded brown. I have no idea why, but it was a stark contrast, and really cool to see visually.

It may feel silly (pretentious, even) to internally narrate what you’re seeing. “The power cables branched out over the city like metallic spider webs, intersecting at rust-covered steel boxes, dangling from warped, wooden poles like ugly streamers.” I felt a bit goofy talking about power lines in such detail, but that’s the name of the game.

Some of the lines you come up with will be terrible. Others will startle you with their clarity. Don’t dwell on any single train of thought. Keep everything flowing. Use everything you can— the natural scenery, the buildings, the people (just don’t get caught staring, that’s weird), the interior of the boardroom, the clutter on that coworker’s desk. Flex the mental muscle that sees detail in everything and describe what stands out.

After some practice, this will help you in one of two ways. If you’re lucky, it’ll actually make it easier for you to visualize certain scenes/settings, because your brain is now actively processing small details we usually take in subconsciously. This “active sight” can unlock all sorts of imaginative detail. Or, if you jot down some lines that stick in your head, you can save them and use them to stimulate your brain as needed.

It may seem a little hokey, but once you do it a few times, you start to see the benefit. It’s easy to bury your nose in your phone and scroll through twitter during these passive life moments, but if you can spend a few minutes honing your skills instead, you’ll cultivate a keener sense of imagination and description, and it will enrich your story that much more.Cal is a Chicago-based writer and blogger. He is currently editing his debut epic fantasy novel, Sundering. His upcoming short story, Second Skin, will be released (free for a limited time) on Amazon on May 7. When he’s not head butting his keyboard over a misplaced comma, he’s in the gym, where he works as a personal trainer and competes in power lifting.

Readers can follow Cal on Twitter or his blog.