I've written several blogs on how viewpoint affects what you description in a scene. For example, a character who is analytical will view a room differently from a creative person.
The profession of a viewpoint character also affects how you describe what the character sees. In one of my novels, the main character is a landscape artist. I kept a list of paint colors beside me as I wrote her viewpoint because she'd be precise about color variations. She'd see another character's eyes as cerulean blue, not blue.
If that viewpoint character had been an expert on antiques, the other person's eyes might be the color of Delft blue china.
Using this kind of description also makes writing love scene description, particularly evoking the intense emotions of sexual pleasure, a bit easier and less cliche-ridden. I've used space imagery for a heroine who was an astrophysicist, shapes and forms for an architect, and colors and textures for that landscape painter.
An expert will also see something differently than the rest of us. Imagine a mechanic looking at a car engine, now imagine someone who knows nothing about engines looking at it. The terms used to describe the engine in viewpoint will be as precise or imprecise as the character's knowledge.
Always remember that description is as much about the viewpoint character as it is about creating a picture in the reader's head.
"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." The only character greater than a villain is a villain who is redeemed.
"Oh, Holy Night" A powerful story is often best told simply.
"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" Sometimes, something innocent can become creepy.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" A one-sided romantic relationship is boring.
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" The underdog with a reviled talent makes a great hero.
"Frosty the Snowman" A great character often deserves a sequel. ("I'll be back again, some day." )
"Carol of the Bells" Driving rhythm can pull the reader forward.
"Do You Hear What I Hear?" You can tell a story through dialogue.
"Silent Night" A few simple images can create powerful emotions.
“Let It Snow, Let It Snow” The quiet, homey moments are often filled with the greatest emotions and memory.
"The Christmas Song" ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…." ) Setting alone can show strong emotion and story.
“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” A fantasy plot makes much more sense with lots of details. (“There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage. I'd feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage.”) NOTE: Best Christmas novelty song ever!
"Good King Wenceslas" Sometimes, a character is remembered more for kindness than power or glory.
"I'll Be Home For Christmas" Home and family are two of the most powerful goals within the human heart.
"Baby, It's Cold Outside." "This is for your good, not mine" is a great seduction.
“Is that You, Santa Claus?” Every good thing may disguise a bad thing.
"Jingle Bells" and "Jingle Bell Rock" The times and tempo may change, but the story remains the same.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" Sometimes, the character's emotions and the message aren't the same.
"Santa Baby" With the right voice, even Santa and a chimney can be made into a double entendre.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Love is the greatest gift.
In my blog entry on participant viewpoint, I talked about the dangers of using camera viewpoint in writing scenes, but the idea of a camera shooting the action can be useful when you are writing description.
As you describe a room from a character's viewpoint, imagine that the character is that camera as he scans the room as he enters.
In a scene which doesn't start with high action such as a fight, he would scan right to left or left to right, and the important objects would be described in relationship to those near it. The character would see the piano, then the bar, then the poker tables on the far side.
If some object or person is important--the character is looking for it or meeting him, etc., then that object or person is described first with the general impressions of the room then the details of the room can be filled in as needed. For example, if someone is coming at the viewpoint character with a sword, he won't notice the piano or the bar except as possible objects to hide behind.
Movement is also important. A person’s gaze will follow movement, particularly movement toward him. If someone is walking toward him, he will notice this before noticing the furniture in the room.
When writing that description, the idea of the camera shot can also keep you from making a mistake in visual pacing.
If you are describing the room, then put in a character's mental comment about something, and then you go back to describing the room, you are doing the equivalent of beginning to pan the room with a camera then jerking the camera toward the main character's face, then the camera returns to panning.
By thinking of the visual description as camera work, you are less likely to make mistakes in visual and action pacing that will jar your reader.
A work of fiction should be a series of interlocking questions.Think of these questions as links in a chain that pulls the reader through each scene and through the novel.
The questions within the book should be ongoing. Before you answer one question the reader has, you should have several more set up so the reader doesn't say "oh, now I understand" and put down the book never to finish it.
The questions can be action questions-- Will the heroine rescue the baby before it crawls into the well? Will the hero kiss her now?
The questions can be character questions-- What happened to Mary that makes her so nervous around men? Why does Jim hate Bill?
The questions can be setting questions-- What is beyond the next bend in the road? Where is the dragon hiding? Why does the lab have smoke in it?
The questions can be plot questions-- Will Tom rescue Pam from the burning building? How will he do it? What did the robber steal from the safety deposit box that the Mafia wants so much?
The questions can be minor questions which can be answered in a few pages-- Will Pam say yes when Tom asks her out?
The questions can be major questions that take the whole book to answer-- Who killed Bill and why?
Writing interlocking questions is a complicated dance between the writer and the reader. The writer wants to give just enough information to involve the reader and urge her forward in the narrative, but not so much information that the reader becomes bored.
The reader sees the questions and their answers as clues and reading the story is a mystery she wants to solve for herself. The reader not only wants to know what happens next, she also wants to make guesses at what will happen next and why.
To see the power of interlocking questions, just consider the Harry Potter series. These books were not only good individual reads full of interlocking questions, the interlocking questions extended through the series. People talked about these questions, they puzzled over these questions, and they argued over these questions as each book came out.
If JK Rowling had explained everything early on, the series would not have been so popular, and the readers would not have been so invested in the characters.
How do you write interlocking questions?
One trick is to think of yourself as the reader. What will the reader want to know at that moment in the narrative? What questions can you answer and what answers can be held back?
When you are plotting your story out, you will be thinking about the who, what, when, where, and why of each event. Decide what information from the Five W's the reader needs immediately, and what information can be seeded through the narrative as questions and answers.
Every answer you give to an important narrative question should lead to more questions-- Jim couldn't possibly have killed Bill, but why has he confessed to the murder? Could he be protecting someone else? Who and why?
An excellent way to see how interlocking questions work is to study how a good author uses them.
Pick a favorite author who really sucks you into their books and keeps you flipping the pages. Go to the author's website and find the sample chapter or chapters of one of their books. Print those pages, get the highlighter out, and mark every narrative question you find. Notice how the small questions and the larger questions work together.
Or you can pull out a favorite book from your keeper shelf and read it while paying attention to the interlocking questions.
During all this, remember that the writer and the reader have one important question foremost in their heads as they write and read-- What happens next?