Topic for February: Description. What is your saturation point? What is not enough? How do you decide what to include and when to hold back to allow the reader to fill in the blanks? Do you ever skim description when reading a book? If so, what description are you most likely to skip?
I was inspired to suggest this topic from a book while I was writing. Some days, writing is easier than others. It was not one of those days. I was struggling (which happens when I’m not listening to my characters, but what my brain thinks needs to happen.) How do you describe a place you’ve never been? That is the challenge. One answer is research. Another is travel. (I like both, but I’d like to do the second more than I do the first. Alas, not so much. LOL)
My main challenge, though, is I tend to be succinct. (Some would say I’m terse, but not all.) I’ll agree that I’m not a flowery writer, and I firmly believe that description is there to help the reader envision the scene. When an author spends too much time in description, it halts the flow of the story. Without enough, the reader is lost.
Too Much Description
So, what’s too much? I do believe that’s personal. Some people love the description of everything in minute detail. Not me. If we are in the middle of an action scene or about to get to the good part of a romance, please don’t stop the forward motion with a long dissertation (three or four paragraphs) of what the room looks like. Unless it somehow affects the plot or is important to that scene, I don’t care that one rose is slightly faded compared to the others. It may be a beautiful description, but you’ve lost me. Nor do I care about every ruffle on the heroine’s dress. Instead, I’m now doing what all authors dread: their reader is skimming. (Yes, I’m guilty of it.)
Heavens to Betsy!
Is the author waxing poetic about how beautiful the day is? I can appreciate this as long as they don’t wax too long. I’ve read books where three pages were dedicated to description. Nothing happened but description. Why didn’t I skip it? Oh, I did. I kept skimming until I came to the action.
Honestly, I’ve rarely run across a book with too little description. I believe this is because most writers are logophiles. How could we not love words? They are our paintbrush; they bring our worlds alive; they make it possible for us to share our stories. Without them, we would be nothing.
Well, not nothing, but, certainly, not writers, which would be a sad thing indeed. Sometimes, we need to rein ourselves in.
The Best Description
In my opinion (and take it for what it’s worth), the best description combines action. This excerpt is from my current WIP, which is a contemporary historical shifter romance set in 1962 China/Tibet/India.
She jogged across the dirt road, past a few huts with smoke curling out of the chimneys to the edge of the village. Snow covered conifers towered over her. A hushed silence shrouded the forest. Not even rodents dared the oncoming storm.
Her navy blue liberation shoes sank knee-deep into the undisturbed snow that had fallen overnight. The cold penetrated the canvas-topped, rubber-soled shoes. Snow clung to her rag wool, loose-fitting trousers and shoes with each step she took. By the time she reached her destination, she panted from the exertion. Normally, she’d spend more time covering her tracks, but the storm would erase them soon enough. No one would be traveling today.
Kneeling behind a large tree, she swept snow off a wooden box and sat down. She untied her damp shoes and slipped out of them. Resting her feet on the top of her shoes to prevent her wool socks from getting sodden, she removed them and stuffed them in her pocket. She stood barefoot in the snow, opened the box, and slapped the shoes together to dislodge as much snow as possible before setting them in the box to the side. She took the socks from her pocket and stuffed them inside her shoes. The snow stung where it touched her feet. She wiggled her toes, yearning for the days before Mao and the Cultural Revolution had swept the country—and for her heavy, sheepskin boots that had kept her feet toasty warm.
So, Where Do You Stand on Description?
What’s your saturation point? Do you have one? Have you ever read a book with too little description? Or one with too much?
If you enjoyed this post, please follow the links below and find out what others have to say on this subject.