“For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else. In most cases, these details will be the first ones that come to mind. Certainly, they will do for a start. If you decide later on that you’d like to change, add, or delete, you can do so — it’s what rewrite was invented for. But I think you will find that, in most cases, your first visualized details will be the truest and best. You should remember (and your reading will prove it over and over again should you begin to doubt) that it’s as easy to overdescribe as to underdescribe. Probably easier.”
Stephen King, On Writing
Stephen King knows a thing or two about creating intense, memorable character and settings, and in his pithy guide, On Writing, he outlines how he’d visualize a place he knows well — a favorite Manhattan steakhouse called Palm Too:
“Before beginning to write, I’ll take a moment to call up an image of the place, drawing from my memory and filling my mind’s eye, an eye whose vision grows sharper the more it’s used. I call it a mental eye because that’s the phrase with which we’re all familiar, but what I actually want to do is to open all my senses. This memory search [is] brief but intense, a kind of hypnotic recall. And, as with actual hypnosis, you’ll find it easier to accomplish the more you attempt it.”
What a helpful technique! In a “Character Development” class I’m taking with author Kathleen Bartlett, she suggested we apply this approach to character description:
Mentally visualize a character (or setting) you want to capture.
If it’s a place/person you know, vividly recall it; if not, see it in your mind’s eye.
Use all your senses to recall or envision it.
Identify the first three or four details that jump out at you.
Build the scene or evoke a character by bringing these details alive.
I used this approach to rework a scene in my YA novel and it’s much richer. Why not see if it works for you? Write on!