Thursday's Tips: Description Without Author Intrusion

You can learn a lot by reading a brochure. How deep is the Grand Canyon? How high is Mount Hood? Tourists appreciate being wowed by those facts, don’t they? Same is true of visiting a museum and reading the plaques as you go. 

But fiction readers not only don’t need all those facts, they frankly don’t want to see them in their fiction.

Reader expectations

When a fiction reader picks up a book (or opens an e-book file on their e-reader), they’re looking for a good story. Something to make them think, laugh, or cry, something to help them escape. They’re not looking for the minutest details on the largest snake in Eastern Texas.


Adjectives used to be the greatest part of speech writers could use. When I was in school, we were taught to use them freely to spice up our description. But now, the trend is to “write tight.” Writers are encouraged to remove adjectives. To choose strong nouns and verbs to convey their story. So, description is especially challenging to pen. Another current trend as we “write tight” is to stick to the action and avoid lengthy descriptions. Trouble is, in order to ground readers in our storyworld, we need some description.

Some good tips for including description without intruding:

~ I find the most promising method of including description is to use one or two lines that connect with readers. Something readers will relate with and hopefully feel for themselves. So, rather than use “brochure copy” (too many details that read like dry facts), pick out an element or two that is relatable for readers and include those items. Mention something universal, like how the sun hits the ancient building, or the water sparkles in shades of periwinkle and turquoise. Take your reader there without telling them the old cathedral was built in 1721 as the residence of some reigning monarch whose first-born daughter wore purple on every third new moon. See the difference?

~ Ask yourself: is this important to the story? Does it help ground my reader? Will this fact matter later in the story? Here’s a soul-searching question: am I including this to show how much I know about a certain topic? If so, that’s called author intrusion and makes for rather bland reading. Plus, I believe readers can discern the author’s ego coming through and that can turn readers off.

~ The details you do choose to share must be details your main character (MC) would know, if they’re presented via introspection. Otherwise, you’re crossing into author intrusion again.

~ Use dialogue to communicate the imperative information your MC would not know. This helps deal with info that must be included, but sounds very fact-based (and thus dry), because somehow dialogue smoothes away the “brochure” element. Mostly. Use this method with caution. Always ask yourself if the information is pertinent to the story itself (see tip above).

~ Sprinkle the facts in. Don’t dump them all at once. That’s known as an “info dump” and will likely result in a rewrite once your critique partner or editor sees it. 

What are some other ways you’ve included description without slipping into author intrusion?


  1. Hi Annette. Writing today is definitely different than it used to be. Older books, which I love and adore, are written with lots of descriptive words and I think adjectives are so fun to "read." I am also a fan of adverbs. I know. I hear the gasps! But I don't use them in attributes, so you can feel relief at least over that:)

    Tightened writing is a big trend nowadays, and it is an art many writers need to learn. I am struggling with removing lengthy paragraphs that contain too many adjectives (and adverbs!) and I appreciate your advice today:)

  2. So glad this was helpful, Ink. I think following the trends, when it comes to current rules, is key. That said, don't remove it all. Given what you like to read, it may be a part of your voice, and we always want that! Happy writing!