Dress Up Description: Harness the Power of Big
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All month long, Our Write Side bloggers have been bringing you advice about how to build a spectacular, but believable, world for your story. One tried and true way to inspire awe is to include larger than life elements in your settings. This applies to space stations and alien monsters every bit as much as to castles and mythic creatures. Airship pirates need epic airships, and you can’t throw a rave in a small space, now can you? But “big” as a descriptor is boring, not to mention overused. So let’s explore some other options to make your descriptions as big as your imagination.
Synonyms for “Big”
There are plenty of degrees of “bigness,” so I’ll try to keep my examples grouped together. For this post, we’ll be focusing on people, places, and things, but if you want more information about describing “big” sounds, check out Dress Up Your Description: Harness the Power of Loud. (insert link)
Hefty, Large, Full, Bulky, Burly, Strapping, Ample
This set of synonyms is big, but on a human scale. A person could reasonably be described as any of these things, but an individual body part could also be “full” or “ample.” These synonyms are relative; they apply to things that are notably large, but not outside the realm of reason. There is something heavy about these words, but not so heavy they can’t be lifted.
Extensive, Brimming, Crowded, Capacious, Chock-full, Copious
If you want to talk about the amount of something being big, these synonyms could do the trick. A pirate’s body could be crowded with tattoos. The voice of a teenager is often brimming with sarcasm. Or, and old house may need extensive renovations.
Huge, Vast, Gigantic, Enormous, Mammoth
This is the next step up when you want to describe big things you can touch. These synonyms should be reserved for the things in your story that are not only large, but impressive for their largeness. Hold on for a vast expanses of wilderness, or an entire rolling city before you employ this degree of word.
Titanic, Colossal, Tremendous, Immense
Despite any negative Celine Dion-induced associations, the origin of this word goes back to the Greeks. The titans roamed the earth before Zeus and the other gods, the original children of the primordial beings. Titans were known for their great size and strength. Often, the ancients honored the titans and the gods with a monumental statue called a colossus (pl. colossi). The most famous example is the Colossus of Rhodes, which was dedicated to Helios.
Using Other Things for Context
Size is relative. One hero’s gigantic dragon is another’s lap dog; it depends on the context. “Big” is a pretty neutral word, but many of the synonyms above also carry a value judgment. They are intended to impress. But what if you just want something to be big, but humdrum? It might be time to find something on par with the size of what you are describing. Here are a few ideas of things to use for comparison:
- Concert hall, ballet, or opera house
- Palace, castle, temple, or other significant building you’ve already described
- Old growth forest
- Mountains, peaks, canyons
- The ocean, sea, or other body of water
- Sahara desert, Atacama desert, or a whole continent
- Stars of all colors and shapes
- Planets, moons, and asteroids
- Skyscrapers, trains, buses, trolleys, or their hubs
- Elephant, rhinoceros, grizzly bear, ostrich, moose, horse, white shark, whale, or other animal
Point of Comparison
You can also sometimes tap into making the reader feel like something is big by making the characters feel small by comparison. They could feel like just another bug on the dashboard of a space cruiser. Perhaps the library could make the student cower in anticipation of so many hours of work. There are as many fun and interesting ways to show “small” to evoke “big” as there are writers. I’ll cover small in a future post, but for now, I invite you to leave your comments below! Search your work in progress for every time you used “big” and show us how you changed the sentence to make it stronger.
[bctt tweet=”Size is relative. One hero’s gigantic dragon is another’s lap dog. #writingtips #worldbuilding” username=”phoebedarqueling”]
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