Skills in Progress: Visual Description

Tamir was middle-aged and hardened, with skin a pale enough silver that it looked like the sun had bleached it. He was on the tall side, and gaunt. A series of ragged scars raked across a milky, useless eye; the other eye was an endless black ringed in glowing violet that seemed like it did enough seeing for the both of them. He wore Chalir-style robes and cut a very striking figure on camelback. Tamir was the desert incarnate: remote, spare, and uncaring. It was strange to see him in his desert robes on his desert animal among the lush green of Vilahna’s fields. He alone of Shayat’s crew had been eager to return to the Empire.

This is a passage from the book I’m currently in the midst of rewriting (Ariah). Obviously the rewrites are not yet done, much less edited, but I am pretty pleased with how it came out.

Description is not easy for me. I think writers come to the craft with some skills already sharp and have to work to hone the rest. My talents lie primarily with characterization and dialogue. When I started writing, I was a very internally focused writer: lengthy descriptions of mental and emotional states, lots of reaction. I’m also, somewhat oddly considering the medium, a very auditory writer. I am more likely to describe the timbre of a character’s voice than the color of their hair.

Vivid visual description like this – be it of a person or a place or a thing – is something I still have to actively inject into my writing. Certainly it has gotten easier. These passages used to stick out like sore thumbs and break the flow of the writing, but now they are smoothly integrated and add to it. But still, this sort of writing is a challenge for me.

It helps to think of writing as a process. Each book need not be perfect. I write for the mastery of the craft, and for the stories, not for perfection. I write to get better, and there will always be room for improvement, a thought which is simultaneously humbling and hopeful. Is this passage perfect? Certainly not. Is it the best description of this character I can write with the skills I have today? Definitely yes.

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