Characters and Locations
When describing characters and locations, you don’t want the narrative to break the flow of the action. You don’t want the reader to stop and ponder your words. You want your readers to be focused on what your characters are doing in the locations in which you have placed them.
When a character first enters your story, you want the reader to have a quick impression of who your character is. You create this impression by presenting the reader with the essential physical appearance and traits necessary.
As an exercise, go somewhere in public and look at strangers as they pass. What do you notice about them first? What opinions and ideas do you form based on those first glances? Your description of your characters is that same experience for your readers.
Tell them what they are seeing.
Tell them what they are seeing — and only what they need to know right then. You will have plenty of time later to reveal other qualities, secrets and contradictions in your character as you peel away the layers of who they are. First, your reader needs to have an impression of who they think the characters are. It can be an accurate impression, or it can be wholly wrong.
All that matters is that the reader sees your characters the way you want them to be seen.
Location needs to be described in such a way that the reader sees, feels and hears what’s going on – much like s/he would if they were in a theater watching the movie. However, this impression must be conveyed quickly and convincingly.
You want to present the location in a way that feels like what happens when someone first sees something. What are the dominant visual images that leap out at the viewer? What are the necessary sounds? Are there smells or other influences that need to be communicated that are having an effect on the characters and the environment?
Apply the same exercise to locations that you would to character. When you walk into a building, onto a bus or subway train or join a meeting, what are the first things you notice? When you wake up in the morning, what do you experience first: Your alarm? Light from outside your window? Noise from down the hall, the apartment next door or the street outside?
If you have the opportunity, take in the environment from any or all uncommon angles. Stand on a bench or a chair. In what ways does the space look different? Get down on the ground, what do you see? Gaze down upon it from a balcony or an adjacent rooftop. How does this differing views inform your understanding of what you are looking at?