Meaning and value

Here’s one of the most powerful tools we can use when describing the world: telling the reader about the meaning or value of specific details.

For example, let's look at the pot of food in this snippet:

Corinne’s chest tightened at Severine’s words. She leaned over the pot and inhaled its scent. It didn’t smell right. It didn’t smell like any food she knew. Something about the dish was off. Something about Severine was off too.

Tracey Baptiste is describing a pot of food, but she doesn’t tell us about the physical details (what colour it is, what it smells like, etc). Instead, she tells us what the smell means: that something is wrong, both with the food and with the person who made it.

There are lots of ways in which things in the world can have meaning and value for characters.

Here are a couple of examples using the same pattern:

Kirra knew that everyone left their name on the Marking Stone, just like everyone bowed their heads to the elders. It was part of being a kid, part of being a member of the community. Her fingers brushed over her own name, just starting to fade.

Marie finally entered the toy shop, brimming with excitement. She had been waiting for this moment for what seemed like forever. As she walked through the door, she felt a warm tingle wash over her. The yellow lights bathed everything in a soft glow. It was a humble little shop with only a handful of toys, but Marie didn’t mind. To her, it wasn’t about the toys. To her, this little shop felt like Christmas. And she wouldn’t have traded that feeling for anything.

Write your own variation. Focus on a detail in your scene and describe what it means to one of the characters.