Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Descriptive narrative is like garlic; too much ruins the book.

Carefully planned descriptive details can give clues to the character’s personality. Just clues. It would be okay to mention Veronica’s “uniform” of jeans, a Reno Envy t-shirt, and black ballet flats. However, there is no need to describe the outfit of every character who appears in the story.

What is the key to a good description?
The key to good description is clarity, both in observation and in writing. Use fresh images and simple vocabulary to avoid exhausting your reader. Your main job as a writer is to continue the forward motion of the story. Make sure you only include details that move your story forward and persuade your readers to continue reading.

Be careful your research does not eclipse the story. Research belongs in the background. You may be excited about what you have learned, but readers are much more interested in your character and your story.

That's why, in one scene in my book Revenge in Reno, I show the bad guy shaving his head with a straight razor, which he prefers to cheap safety razors. I noted it because, later, Veronica uses the razor to cut her bonds and escape. I do not describe the paintings on the wall in the cabin or the television set or the color of the carpet because they're not important and because readers can imagine those ordinary things for themselves.

Don't describe what doesn't need describing.

Don't describe doorknobs, parking garages, easy chairs or carpets unless they differ from the norm for some reason. Everyone knows what knobs, garages, and chairs look like. Unless there is something radically different about the item, don't describe it.

Stay away from clichés when you write description. Dump those deep forests, bustling crowds and ribbons of highways. They're clichés. If you have read it in more than one novel, it is probably overused and overexposed.

One more hint about describing a setting.
Rather than describe the setting from your eyes, strive to use the viewpoint character's eyes. Do not be afraid to include similes to help set the scene. However, stay away from clichés everyone has heard already. Try to be original. Invent your own descriptions. Instead of describing all the furniture in an apartment, try this:

Veronica and Carol sat at either end of a black leather couch in the tastefully decorated living room of Carol’s Lake Tahoe apartment, grief rolling across the space between them like a wash of salt water. “I still expect to see him at the door,” Carol said. She straightened the new Time magazine on the table.

Instead of describing the weather by writing, "It was a cold, windy day," try showing it:

Veronica looked out at the water of the Truckee River. Reflecting the stormy skies, the water rippled in the breeze like stretched gray silk.

Instead of, "Paul knew a storm was brewing...” try this:

Paul leaned against the cold metal railing, watching the clouds like dark bruises missing and swelling on the bleak horizon.

Description is the most overrated instrument in the novelist's toolkit. Usually, you can remove half of the description from a beginner's novel and greatly improve the book. Remember readers are smart; they have seen a lot, know a lot, and they can imagine a lot. So don't describe every little thing.

So, bottom line: don't over-describe.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.) http://smarturl.it/novsec

Lary Crews