Describe characters and settings when you first introduce them

Nathan Bransford, TVWriter™’s favorite publishing know-it-all, shares his perspective about the writerly use of description. And, yes, it differs quite a bit from LB’s tip yesterday. Because we’re talking fiction as lit now, y’hear?

by Nathan Bransford

An extremely common writing foible I see when I’m editing novels reads like this…

“Hey!” Nathan heard a voice say.

Nathan turned to see someone approach him on the sidewalk.

“What are you doing?” the man asked.

“Hey, Egya! Working on a blog post about why it’s confusing when characters and settings are only belatedly described as a scene is unfolding,” Nathan said.

Nathan has known Egya since college. He’s Nathan’s best friend and he hangs out with him on a regular basis.

“Oh,” Egya said. “Tell them they should just be straightforward.”

Egya was wearing a trendy navy jumpsuit with a hooded sweatshirt and a flat leather cap. They stood on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and it was snowing heavily. Throngs of masked pedestrians scurried past them to escape the blowing flakes.

“I am,” Nathan said.

Here’s why this approach can be disorienting: When you provide scant details about what’s happening in a scene, the reader will fill in gaps on their own. So as you belatedly provide more detail, you force the reader to constantly revise their mental image of the scene, which can be exhausting. In the absence of clear information, they may construct a “default” image that might not be correct.

Let’s go back to the passage….

Read it all at

Need help with your book? Nathan is available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!

For my best advice, check out Nathan’s guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and his guide to publishing a book.

And if you like this post: subscribe to Nathan’s newsletter!