Description is About Feelings by Jackie Blain

Description equals feelingJoin me as we welcome back columnist Jackie Blain as she shares with us on how “Description is About Feelings.” Enjoy!


One of the delights of reading fiction is getting lost in the world of the story.
Becoming so immersed in that place and time that we get confused when we look up from the page, and have to ask, “Where am I?”

When I read The Alienist by Caleb Carr, it always took me several seconds to come back to the present from his deeply felt descriptions of 19th century New York City. Okay, he’s an historian so he’s obviously good at the “stuff” of an era. But it was more than that. It was the atmosphere, the emotions of the description, that sucked me right on in and wouldn’t let me go.

That’s why description at its best isn’t just about the “stuff” – it’s also the feeling.

And the feeling can change, depending on what you’re trying to do as an author, or where your character is emotionally.

Here’s one example:

If you read my previous post and did the exercise, pull out what you wrote after you visited that favorite childhood place. Re-read it, close your eyes, and put yourself back there. If you haven’t seen that post or tried that exercise, I’d suggest doing it now – it’ll be even fresher in your mind!

Now I want you to go back to that place… but as your adult self, who you are now. Even if the place is gone, imagine what it would be like today.

Go ahead. Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out…

  • …and go there. Be Put yourself in that place. And look around…
  • Now who’s there? What are they doing? Saying?
  • What do you see now? The same things? Different things? Changed things?
  • What about the smells? The textures?
  • Has the light changed? How?
  • Does the air feel heavier? Lighter?
  • What do you hear this time? The same sounds? Different ones?
  • How do you feel? Light? Heavy? Happy? Safe?

Just be there. Look. Listen. Touch things. Feel how you feel.

And when you’re ready, slowly open your eyes, take a breath… and write for seven minutes about what you just experienced.

You might find yourself almost overwhelmed emotionally by this little visit, but that’s pretty normal. Memory and the present day doesn’t always co-exist easily. Just breathe and write.

Now, step back and think about what you’ve got. Both descriptions, both experiences, are telling you something – that you that as a writer can choose how you want your reader to feel if you’re willing to feel it yourself.  As the poet Robert Frost once wrote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” The emotions of place, just as much as the actions that happen there, are what create those tears… or laughter… or anger.

So don’t be afraid. Put yourself there and use the “stuff” of description to tell us about , and you’ll put your reader there, too.



Jackie-Blain, Screenwriter Instructor

Jackie-Blain, Screenwriter Instructor

Jackie Blain is a writer, screenwriter, writing teacher and member of the Writers Guild of America who works with dedicated screenwriters and filmmakers to make their work the best it can be… and remember that they got into this writing thing because of passion and fun. She lives in Brooklyn NY with two cats who, she suspects, hate the heat and wish they were still in Oregon. More about Jackie Blain’s courses, consultations, and evaluation services for screenwriters and filmmakers here.

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