How To Describe Glitching In a Story (17 Pro Tips + Examples)

Reality flickers at the edges — exploring the art of glitching in storytelling.

Here’s my comprehensive guide, drawn from real-world experience, on how to master the art of describing glitch scenes in your stories.

What Is Glitching in Storytelling?

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People glitching in a city street -- How to Describe Glitching in a Story
I made this image — How to Describe Glitching in a Story

Glitching, in the context of storytelling, goes beyond mere technical hiccups in our gadgets.

It represents a break from the expected, a moment where reality, perception, or technology falters, providing a unique opportunity for narrative exploration.

Here are some of the main types of glitching:

  • Visual Glitches: Distortions or anomalies in the visual perception of the world or characters, such as flickering or blurring of scenes.
  • Auditory Glitches: Unexplained noises, echoes, or silences that disrupt the normal soundscape, often creating a sense of unease.
  • Temporal Glitches: Shifts in time, such as loops, freezes, or sudden jumps, affecting characters’ perceptions and narrative flow.
  • Spatial Glitches: Alterations in the physical space, including impossible geometry, shifting landscapes, or disappearing objects.
  • Memory Glitches: Characters experience unexplained loss of memory, false memories, or sudden recollections that may not fit the timeline.
  • Identity Glitches: Confusion or alteration of characters’ identities, where characters may not recognize themselves or others.
  • Reality Glitches: The blurring of boundaries between different levels of reality, such as waking life and dreams, or between parallel worlds.
  • Digital Glitches: Manifestations within digital or virtual environments, affecting technology, data, and digital identities.
  • Physical Glitches: Anomalies affecting the physical bodies of characters, such as sudden changes in appearance or unexplained ailments.
  • Emotional Glitches: Sudden, unexplained changes in emotional states or feelings, often without a clear trigger, influencing character behavior and interactions.

17 Essential Tips for Crafting Compelling Glitch Descriptions

Here are 17 of my favorite tips for how to describe glitching in a story.

1. Focus on Sensory Details

Understanding the visceral impact of a glitch on a character can transform a scene from merely interesting to deeply immersive.

Think about how a glitch might distort not just sight, but touch, sound, and even the sense of time.

For instance, if a character is experiencing a glitch in their reality, describe how the air might feel thicker, sounds could become muffled or unnaturally clear, and lights might flicker or change color inexplicably.

Example: As Mara looked on, the horizon began to stutter, a visual echo distorting the sunset. The breeze felt like static, tingling unnaturally against her skin.

2. Use Disorienting Syntax

Crafting sentences that mimic the disorientation of a glitch can pull readers deeper into the experience.

Play with sentence structure to reflect the jarring, disjointed nature of a glitch.

Short, fragmented sentences or long, run-on sentences can both convey a sense of confusion and disorientation.

Example: Lights—blink, then on, no, off, off, off. Silence. A scream? No—laughter, echoing, wrong.

3. Incorporate Technological Jargon Sparingly

While some technical terms can add authenticity, overloading your narrative with jargon can alienate readers.

Use it sparingly and in a way that enhances understanding, rather than obscuring it.

When you do introduce technical language, a quick, intuitive explanation can keep readers engaged.

Example: The screen pixelated before going dark, a classic symptom of a kernel panic, where the system’s brain essentially ‘faints’ from an overwhelming error.

4. Contrast the Glitch with Normalcy

Highlighting the difference between the glitched state and reality can heighten the impact of the glitch.

Before diving into the glitch description, paint a vivid picture of the norm.

This contrast not only emphasizes the strangeness of the glitch but also grounds the reader in your story’s reality.

Example: The city was a symphony of honking cars and chattering crowds until silence fell. The sudden absence of sound made Jonah’s heartbeat the loudest noise in the world.

5. Explore the Emotional Impact

A glitch isn’t just a visual or auditory experience — it’s an emotional one.

Describe how your character feels during the glitch.

Is there fear, confusion, exhilaration? The emotional response can add layers to the scene and deepen character development.

Example: When the shadows began to flicker, Sarah felt an inexplicable surge of nostalgia, as if the glitching light was a portal to a past she’d never lived.

6. Play with Perspective

Changing the point of view can offer a fresh angle on the glitch.

If the story is from a single character’s perspective, consider how the glitch might appear to an outsider, or vice versa.

This can create a multifaceted understanding of the event.

Example: From across the room, Michael watched as Anna stared at her glitching hologram, her expression a mix of fascination and fear. To him, the flickering light cast eerie shadows, painting the familiar room in a stark, alien contrast.

7. Utilize Metaphors and Similes

Dramatic close-up of person glitching -- How to Describe Glitching in a Story
I made this image — How to Describe Glitching in a Story

Drawing parallels between the glitch and more familiar experiences can make the scene more relatable and vivid.

Creative metaphors and similes can bridge the gap between the abstract, often surreal nature of a glitch and the reader’s own experiences.

Example: The video feed glitched, stuttering like a heart skipping beats, each frame a jolt to Emily’s sense of reality.

8. Incorporate Internal Dialogue

A character’s thoughts during a glitch can add depth to their experience.

Use internal dialogue to reveal their confusion, fear, or even fascination.

This internal perspective can make the scene more personal and engaging.

Example: Is this really happening? Mark wondered as the walls seemed to breathe, his hand passing through the doorknob as if it were made of mist.

9. Leverage the Unexpected

Surprise your readers by subverting their expectations of a glitch.

Instead of solely focusing on visual or auditory distortions, think about how a glitch could unexpectedly affect emotions, time perception, or even physical laws.

Example: Lucy reached for the book, but her hand moved in slow motion, each second stretched into eternity as the world around her sped up, a dissonant dance of time.

10. Build Suspense

Use glitches as a tool to build suspense in your story.

A glitch can be an ominous sign, a harbinger of chaos, or a puzzle the characters need to solve, adding layers of tension and anticipation.

Example: Every time the lights flickered, Jack knew they were one step closer to uncovering the truth. The glitches were breadcrumbs leading them through the darkness.

11. Contrast Glitches with Characters’ Reactions

Characters’ varied reactions to the same glitch can enhance the scene’s dynamics.

Some might panic, others could be intrigued, and a few might even deny it’s happening.

This spectrum of responses can add realism and depth to your narrative.

Example: As the holograms around them started to dissolve, Maria’s fascination was a stark contrast to Tom’s growing unease, highlighting their differing views on the world crumbling around them.

12. Detail the Aftermath

Exploring the aftermath of a glitch can be as compelling as the event itself.

Describe how the world reassembles—or doesn’t.

The consequences of a glitch can propel the story forward, offering opportunities for conflict and resolution.

Example: After the glitch, the city seemed untouched, but Sarah noticed subtle changes; shadows where none should be, a persistent echo in her calls, remnants of a disturbance in the fabric of reality.

13. Use Glitches as Foreshadowing

Glitches can serve as forewarnings, hinting at future events or revealing hidden truths.

Embedding clues within glitches can engage readers, inviting them to piece together the puzzle before the characters do.

Example: The brief glitch in the surveillance footage, a shadow flickering at the edge of the screen, was the first sign that they were not alone in their quest.

14. Describe the Physical Sensations

Beyond visual and auditory details, describe the physical sensations characters experience during a glitch.

This can make the scene more immersive, allowing readers to feel the glitch as if it were happening to them.

Example: As the world around him glitched, Alex felt a tingling sensation, like static electricity, enveloping his body, a physical manifestation of the world’s digital hiccup.

15. Introduce Glitches Gradually

A slow build-up can increase the impact of a glitch.

Start with small, almost imperceptible signs before escalating to full-blown anomalies.

This gradual introduction can heighten tension and intrigue.

Example: At first, the glitches were minor, a skipped word in conversations, a misplaced object. But soon, the fabric of reality itself seemed to unravel, each thread pulling away to reveal the chaos beneath.

16. Connect Glitches to Character Development

Glitches can be pivotal moments for character growth.

How characters respond to and are changed by these events can be a rich vein to mine for character development, revealing fears, desires, and strengths.

Example: Faced with a reality that glitched and twisted around him, James found a strength he didn’t know he possessed, a resilience in the face of the incomprehensible.

17. Leave Room for Interpretation

Not all glitches need a clear explanation.

Ambiguity can be a powerful tool, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions and engage with the story on a deeper level.

Example: When the world finally snapped back to normal, Anna was left wondering if the glitch was a crack in the universe or a crack in her perception, a question with no easy answers.

10 Uses for Glitching in Your Story

  1. Character Development: Glitches force characters to confront unexpected realities, pushing growth and introspection.
  2. Plot Twists: A well-timed glitch can pivot the story in a new direction, surprising readers.
  3. Building Atmosphere: Glitches contribute to a surreal, unsettling atmosphere, perfect for horror or mystery genres.
  4. Symbolism: Use glitches as metaphors for larger themes, such as the fragility of reality or the impact of technology.
  5. Foreshadowing: Subtle glitches can hint at future events, keeping readers engaged.
  6. Creating Conflict: Glitches can introduce obstacles for characters, driving the narrative forward.
  7. Exploring Themes: Dive into themes of identity, reality, and perception through the lens of glitches.
  8. World-Building: In speculative fiction, glitches can define the rules of the universe or reveal its cracks.
  9. Engaging the Reader: Involve readers by leaving clues in the glitches for them to piece together.
  10. Narrative Device: Use glitches as a storytelling tool to convey information, memories, or alternate realities.

One of the best ways to learn how to describe glitches in writing is to experience them. You can (virtually) do that in this video:

YouTube Video by As the Raven Dreams — How to Describe Glitching in a Story

Final Thoughts: How To Describe Glitching In A Story

Glitching, in its many forms, offers a treasure trove of narrative possibilities.

From deepening character arcs to enriching plotlines, it’s a dynamic tool that, when wielded with care, can transform your storytelling. Embrace the glitch as both a challenge and an opportunity to explore the boundless realms of creativity.

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