How to add just enough color to the story

Last week I wrote about saying a lot with little.

That’s great; brevity is needed from time to time. But for a story to be truly beautiful, horrific or memorable, whether short or long, the writer must paint a vivid picture.

So how do we, as writers, paint a picture without adding so many color and descriptions that we end up with a muddy mess?

muddy art pallet Jeans Writing


I admire writers that write with beautiful descriptions dripping from the page like diamonds around the neck of a debutante. But me, I struggle every time I sit down to write. Writing just enough words to make the sky a calm vibrant blue on a warm sunny day or adding clouds, birds, airplanes, light breeze until even I’m tired reading the paragraph. The reader does need more than, “The sky was clear.”

I’m a simple person, so I had to come up with a simple process to overcome. Kinda like any overwhelming project, I take it one piece at a time.  In art class, we were taught to block out the subject/scene at first pass. Quick and dirty get the basic dimensions down on paper. Writing is another art form. I try to apply what I learned about drawing and painting to the art of storytelling.

Here are my 2 steps:

  1. Sketch and block out the story. (my version of an outline)

Like an artist sketching out a drawing in charcoal, I write the bare basics first. Just sketch out “what’s to happen.” Giving myself an idea of how many chapters it will take to reach the conclusion. 

2. I tackle each scene or chapter one at a time.

I add a layer of shading, and color to the scene, breathing life into the surroundings. Such as, what is important to the character? The sky, weather, buildings…?

Pretending I’m watching and listening to a movie, I let the scene unfold as describe what the character sees, hears, smells and touches, adding these layers of textures a little by little.

Then I go to the next scene and start the process all over again.

How do you decide to add color and description when you write? All at once, as you go, or a little at a time?

Do you have any tips to help me and others with this struggle?

Need more great tips on taking your writing further?

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How to take your writing to the next level Part 2  by S B WILLIAMS


14 thoughts on “How to add just enough color to the story

  1. That’s exactly how I do it. Write a first draft, then go back over it adding layers of description where it feels right, adding enough to make it come alive but not so much that the detail is superfluous. And then agonise over whether it’s too little or too much. Repeat until you’re satisfied/drive yourself crazy, whichever fits best …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your process is a bit like mine.
    I see a first draft as the rough outline, some colour here and there but lacking layers and detailing – with consequent drafts the plot remains the same but gets richer as I progress.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like this idea. I’m not a fan of the actual draft. I’ve gone into a mode of “micro writing”, where I don’t even look at an entire scene. I take the story in smaller bits asking myself questions as to what should go with the story at the mini point. What I do like doing is what happens afterwards, the revision and editing. With your idea, I could incorporate the second with the first. Marvelous!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jean, I read in one of the many writers groups I belong to, advice from a traditional publishing firm. They are so tired of reading submitted work that start with the weather. So I have had a rethink on ways I start my stories now too.

    Liked by 1 person

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