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Generic Descriptions

Generic Descriptions

As fiction writers, it’s our job to create a vivid, detailed world for our readers. But that won’t happen if you have boring, generic descriptions in your manuscript.

Generic descriptions are fuzzy, ambiguous words—words like:







Sometimes known as abstract words, such descriptions make it difficult for the reader to truly “see” the scene. Abstract words merely tell, when every writer knows the goal is to show.

Now that AutoCrit has pointed out these words for you, aim to replace them with specific details.

For instance, take a look at this generic description and my humble revision:

Nick watched Katie walk across the grass, thinking how pretty she looked.

So boring! That tells us nothing about how Katie actually looks. Let’s try again:

Nick watched Katie walk across the grass, admiring her long, dark hair, her pink cheeks, and the sparkle in her blue eyes.

See how much better that is? By replacing the generic description with a few specifics, the writing immediately has more pizazz and the scene becomes clearer for the reader.

Related areas to look for in your manuscript

Now that you’re on the hunt to replace generic descriptions, look for ways to include more specifics in all your descriptions, even if you aren’t necessarily using a generic term.

For example, take a look at this:

The attic was crowded with old furniture.

Sure, the reader could picture old furniture in a dusty attic—but wouldn’t it be better to say something like this?

An old rocking chair stood in the corner, next to an abandoned wooden cradle and an end table with a deep scratch across the surface.

By adding specifics, you can create a richer, more interesting scene for your reader.


The exception to the rule

There is one place you can use generic descriptions, and that’s in dialogue. People rely on generic descriptions all the time when speaking, especially if they’re trying to be noncommittal or evasive. Take a look at this example:

“How was your date?” I asked my daughter, trying not to appear to look like I was dying for details.

“It was nice,” she said, not looking up from her iPhone.

“Did you have a good time? Where did you go? Will you see him again?”

“It was fine,” she said, shooting me an exasperated look. “He was nice.”

See how it works there? Since generic descriptions don’t give us clear information, the use of the words “nice” and fine” here help show that the daughter is trying not to say too much.

The bottom line

As writers, we want to give our readers a distinct, memorable story.  So let’s get rid of those generic descriptions and give them something to remember.

Write better. Right now.