Jared calls it 'Detailing.' I call it Jared's Rule of Three. In octaNe, Jared writes:
When describing how your character looks, here's a trick: only write down three details. Nobody really cares about your character's exact height and weight or the color of his eyes. C'mon, really. What you should describe are the things that really stand out:
- Wears a raggedy tuxedo and horn-rimmed glasses. Carries a fender guitar.
- Dresses in dusty leathers and wears a jury-rigged brace on his leg. Has a sawed-off shotgun slung on his back.
- Huge dude wearing wrestling boots and a red leather mask decorated with orange and yellow flames.
- Has a tattoo of dice on his neck that says "Born to Lose." Wears a cowboy hat and a big gold chain.
- Small monkey wearing an orange sash and carrying a small stick.
- Hot chick with spiked heels. She's wearing a tight black cat suit that's unzipped to her navel.
- Bipedal gila monster. He's wearing off-the-shoulder overalls, and he's chewing a toothpick.
So here's an official rule: You can only describe three distinct details about your character's appearance.
Extrapolating a bit, Jared's Rule of Three can be a powerful tool in our arsenal for bringing more color into our games. And a comforting one too. You don't need long descriptions laden with carefully-selected adjectives to inject a serious dose of color into your games. In fact, that would be counterproductive, in my experience. The more someone drones on and on about details, the more likely others are to tune out and grow bored.
Details are like salt. A touch releases flavor. Too much makes the entire dish unpalatable or even inedible.
Instead, take some inspiration from Jared's Rule of Three. But don't confine it to characters. If you have the opportunity to describe something, give it one to three short, succinct details that make it stand out. Use the technique for characters, locations, objects, or anything else that you want to introduce into the narrative fiction that you and your friends are creating. Have trouble coming up with details on the fly? Keep a list of cool adjectives/descriptors on a notepad, and cross them off when you've used them.
Try it. Your game will start dripping with cool.
If you have an idea for a technique you'd like me to share, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org