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Friday, April 2, 2010

Descriptions: Too Much Or Too Little

Describing a scene, a person, or an object can make your novel shine or rust. There's a happy medium between describing something just enough to put the reader there and overdoing it to the point where you jolt them out of the novel. It's easy to tell too little and confuse the reader. I've been guilty of this myself. Sometimes when you're rushing too fast to finish the work this can happen. That's okay, as long as you take your edits nice and slow and catch it there. More than one scene in my manuscript will start out being anorexic and I know I'll have to spend extra time on it during one of my many edits.

You can go the opposite direction and overwrite a description as well. As a reader I love good description. But if the author goes on for pages where they're just describing the scenery or the weather and nothing is happening, I'll probably close the book. There is the key, something has to be happening. You can describe a grassy meadow the character is walking through or a murder scene they're arriving at so long as the description has meaning.

A description can be to set the mood for a scene or to teach the reader something about a fantasy world, but regardless of the intent of the description it must add to the flow, not stop it. Think of your book as a river. If you damn it up in places people might choose that spot to get out of the water.

Here's a great link by Writer's Digest on enriching your descriptions: http://writersdigest.com/article/enrich-your-descriptions

10 comments:

  1. Good suggestions. I've been watching the way Barry Eisler handles it in his Rain series, where he's likely "teaching" readers about Japan. There's a fine line between showing the scene and saying, "I've been there; I did my research, so now you have to read about it."

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  2. Good thoughts! My first draft tends to be spare--I'm just getting the ideas down. For me, much of the description comes in the second and third drafts, and the paring down comes in later versions. It's easy to see why good writing means lots of editing!

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  3. So true Terry. Once a writer starts to sound like they're attempting to teach the reader the book loses it's power unless its nonfiction! I remember reading the last Jean Auel book and being totally turned off by the teaching voice of the novel.

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  4. Portia, I'm not the only one! I feared I was since so many people take a while to write their book and get it all right the first time. I'm more of an editing addict. I like to get the book written so I can get to the good part, editing!

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  5. I like description when it's dropped subtly into the story. Not too preachy, but knowledgeable enough to put the reader into the scene. The best novels draw us in, and we lose ourselves in the story. Description also supports the mood of the story. Heather, your stories use description very well to evoke the mysterious and brooding world of the werewolves. Great job!

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  6. Thanks Jule! I love the way you put that, 'dropped subtly into the story'. That's when description is at its best!

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  7. My biggest pet peeve when it comes to description is too much description of a character. I want to know what a character looks like, of course, but a few authors go overboard describing their character's outfit down to the very last detail each and every time they change their clothes, besides unnecessarily dating a novel (fashion changes pretty fast) it's also boring to read.

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  8. So true! I'm like you--anorexic descriptions--but during edits I expand where needed. I mainly focus on scenes that I want the reader to see a certain way. I'm happy to leave most everything else up to their imaginations.

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  9. I've read that many times Alissa! In fact I used to do it! Everytime I mentioned a character I would mention their hair or eye color. Thank goodness an instructor pointed out how annoying that was! I've read others make the clothes mistake too. Definitely something to avoid!

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  10. That's probably a safe bet Lorel. A lot of great writers leave much up to the mind of the reader.

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