Saturday, June 24, 2017

Most were guilty of either over or under when it came to the description.

In my work with thousands of writing students online, I found most were guilty of either over or under when it came to the description. 

There are only two main purposes to write descriptions at all.

  1. To provide imagery to help readers understand the setting.
  2. To assist in characterization by providing readers something to imagine when thinking about your characters.
Readers need something to see in their mind in order to become absorbed in the dream world you have created for them. 

Vivid images can often provide a sense of realism amongst the fiction. You need to help readers quickly and easily imagine the scene. Readers won’t engage emotionally in the story unless it feels real to them. Minimal descriptive details help them believe it is real.

However, too much detail will overwhelm readers. What I see from beginning writers is too much mundane detail, going beyond what is necessary for simply setting the scene. Beginning a story with long, flowery, overly-descriptive sentences makes the writer seem amateurish.

Readers need a little something to picture in their mind’s eye. However, they don’t need much help. They just need a few basic details. Their imaginations will fill in the rest.

If you write specific details about what characters are wearing, about the apple tree in the front yard, or about the poor dog who has only three legs, readers will start skipping your descriptions. What is even worse, they might just quit reading.

Don't go into detail describing places and things. Those descriptions will bring the action to a standstill. Leave out the part readers tend to skip. A novel is about what you choose to show your reader. Same for description.

Be careful to describe only what's important because readers will assume it is important because you pointed it out. When you give something weight by mentioning it, readers naturally assume it is important.

"Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader’s," writes Stephen King. “The important part isn't writing enough, but limiting how much you say.”

Here’s an example of subtle description from Rapture in Reno:

Veronica drove to the modest two-story adobe-like office building on Virginia Street and parked in a space under a sign, which read “For our visitors.” The small fountain at the door was dry, probably shut off for water restrictions since California and Nevada were still suffering a drought.

This gives a sense that the office building is probably in a strip mall and not an expensive downtown skyscraper.

Simply paint a general picture and move on.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews