Two days ago, I was talking to my mom about reading, and with a wistful sigh, she said, “it’s such an escape.” I wanted to ask to where, but I should have asked, “how did you get there?” Actually, reader, where were my mom and I? What did you see?
I ask because words can do two things: convey information or describe a scene. Sometimes both happen simultaneously, but these words I’m saying? They’re only sounds in your mind. You can’t see me in my room typing in my red chair until I’ve told you. This technique is very useful.
Pretend you’re reading a novel. The protagonist hugs their crush in school, and for two paragraphs, time freezes while the narrator voices the protagonist’s thoughts. A novel that only showed setting and action couldn’t voice character thoughts. Conversely, a novel frozen in time to explain character thoughts would lack visuals.
Here’s a sample of what I mean. Note the italics versus bold. (1): To Andre, the worst kind of movies were old westerns. They were all the same: reckless hero with a sharp jawline, damsel in distress who has no opinions of her own, and endless montages of horseback riding.
(2): To Andre’s horror, a cowboy movie was playing when he returned to the physics classroom. He stood motionless by the door, his friends folding their arms or hunched forward. This is what they chose to watch?! He turned to leave but someone waved and pointed to an open seat.
In example (1), the narration is info-conveying. There are hints of visuals like the hero’s jawline, which you may have envisioned, but I’ve withheld knowledge of Andre’s location and actions—he is frozen in time. Example (2) animates Andre and the scene with phrases like “physics classroom” and “stood motionless.”
We are all skilled at info-conveying and descriptive writing. We’ve encountered the forms in essays and fiction. And yet, like other literary techniques, when we write, we tend to use the two forms unconsciously. Be aware of which form you’re using, and experiment with the ratio that you use them!