Tips for Description that Make Historical Fiction Unforgettable

Guest Post by Cindy K. Sproles –

We all want to hear the words, “Your historical fiction was unforgettable.” Nothing is sweeter than having a reader tell you why they loved your work. It may be unforgettable characters, an enthralling story, or a description. Readers come to historical fiction to be transported to an era they may be unfamiliar with or that they love. When writers can fulfill that desire—to make their fiction unforgettable—then they’ve produced stellar work.

Nothing drives a reader faster into the fictional world than colorful and detailed descriptions. Whether it be the description of a character, their situation, or the surroundings of their era, digging into description sometimes requires great thought. Once you land on the key, you will soon see how vivid description enhances your story.

There is a difference in writing the description of a café by the ocean while providing scents of the sea, a soft breeze, or the sun’s warmth, and it’s all in how you approach the senses. Writers tend to be good at telling readers about the story’s surroundings, but the vivid picture that sticks in the reader’s mind is missing because we tend to write at the surface level.

The best way to approach deep description that moves the reader is to begin by touching every sense in the scene. If you are at a seaside café, give the reader a whiff of salt air. Allow them to see and feel the movement of a soft breeze from the ocean as it whips your character’s hair across their face or even into their mouth. Don’t just tell them a breeze blew, but let them experience the feel and smell, the consequence or advancement of the breeze. Provide a touch of seafood and let them lick the butter from a crab leg off their fingers. Let them experience a hint of sand blown onto their table. Show them how a flag flips on the café porch or how the waiter has to catch an off-balance tray because the breeze moved its center of gravity. Allow your reader to hear the background music and enjoy a dessert’s sweetness.

Touching the senses triggers the imagination and opens the mind to receive a vivid picture of the surroundings. In essence, it places the reader inside the café looking over the shoulder of the character.

It’s easy to overwrite in these instances, but carefully choosing the times and importance of the scene will help you filter these descriptions to the perfect place in the story. Every scene doesn’t need a plethora of description, but occasionally inserting a colorful description can quickly transport your reader directly into the time setting, mood, and emotion of what you are writing and allow them to experience the story as opposed to simply reading it.

Readers long for experience, and when we captivate them with descriptions of settings and the moment’s emotion, we draw them in so tightly that they never want to leave.

Close your eyes and imagine your surroundings, then write down what you see. Have you only captured the surface of the surroundings, or have you looked past that for deeper description? Consider a screened-in porch with a wooden table, white wicker furniture, soft yellow cushions, and a braided rug on the floor. That is what you see on the surface, but force yourself to squint and look deeper. Rub your fingers over the wicker chair. Perhaps the ratan catches and pricks your skin. Look at the tufts on the cushion.  Perhaps you see fragments of dirt around the button or a softness when you brush the fabric’s nap in one direction. Does the brush leave marks and imprints on the cushion? Look at the wooden floor and the markings on the planks. Perhaps there are scars from pulling furniture or chipped paint from years of use. The point is to look deeper. It’s those finer details that draw the reader into the moment.

Learn to sit quietly and place yourself in the exact place in time that you want your reader to be and then draw out the intricate details that touch each sense and send chills over your reader.

Setting the mood and tweaking each sense in the scene will take your historical fictional world to a whole new level.

Cindy K. Sproles is an author, speaker, and conference teacher. She is the cofounder of ChristianDevotionsMinistries,, and WRAMS (Writing Right Author Mentoring Services). Cindy directs the Asheville Christian Writers Conference and awaits the release of her next two Appalachian Historical novels. You can find Cindy at

1 thought on “Tips for Description that Make Historical Fiction Unforgettable”

  1. Pingback: Tips for Description that Make Historical Fiction Unforgettable — Historical Novel Society – North America – Sharon E. Cathcart

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