Friday, April 6, 2012

Do you add detailed descriptions in your stories?

Descriptions are an important tool for us writers to create vivid images in a reader’s mind. Some writers tend to overdo on descriptions; either going into elaborate detail about people and objects, like describing even the mole above the left lip or the crescent moon under the eyes or the bristling hair in the hero’s moustache. Then there are few writers like me who tend to underdo on descriptions, by keeping descriptions to a bare minimum. I leave them to my readers’ imaginations.

In the WIP I am querying, I have created a fantasy world where there are objects, food and animals one would normally not find around us. My descriptions were brief. My crit partner Mark Noce pointed out that even if I were to use just a line or two of descriptions for both the people and objects it would make a huge difference to my story as it would bring things to life.

Seeing the book from Mark’s point of view, I realized that it was true. The hard and fast rule of less descriptions does not apply to all stories. Some stories thrive on details which bring the people, objects and things to life. I went through the entire manuscript and added small details (just a line or two) in places that I felt needed a little more detailed descriptions.

I have noticed that books that fall heavily into the literary genre rely a lot on descriptions. For thrillers there are speedy descriptions as though the hero/heroine is seeing things in a fast forward motion. For children’s books, the writer has to describe things in such a way as to interest the small reader.

One point everyone talks about is that the descriptions we use should be crucial to the story or take it forward. Descriptions that weigh the story down need to be deleted.

How do you all handle the descriptions in your stories? Are you the kind who thrive on detailed descriptions? Or do you believe that less is more? Do you keep a separate revising day just for working on descriptions? Please share your methods with us. We would love to get some advice that will help us when we tackle the descriptions in our stories.



19 comments:

  1. As your CP said, when things aren't familiar or obvious in their appearance (as in fantasy novels) you really need to describe them in a manner that enables the reader to see them.

    It's obviously easiest to describe it in great detail, bu that's like describing how someone appears by listing every single item of clothing they're wearing. Even though it does th ejob, it's ver tedious to read.

    You have to find the one or two things that sum it up, and th ebest way to do that is usually by viewing it through your pov character. Use their voice to describe it, add their specific attitude/preference/angle on it.

    That way it becomes less like an entry in an encyclopaedia, and more like a part of the narrative.

    mood
    Moody Writing
    @mooderino
    The Funnily Enough

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  2. With each successive book my descriptive passages have got shorter and shorter and are almost nonexistent in my last book. Readers need very little to help them along I find. I know Waiting for Godot is a play but I often cite the setting as the perfect minimalist description: A country road. A tree. Evening. I wrote a whole blog about it which you can read here.

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  3. Description is discretionary... couldn't resist. :)
    Everything should push the story forward. If it helps the reader in anyway- do it. Just don't make it annoying.

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  4. I agree that description is always in the service of the story. If it doesn't develop character or make the setting more immediate to the reader or move the story forward, you can afford to take it out. I think the nature of the story dictates how much description is necessary. For a fantasy world you do need details to make it real for a reader; or for a historical novel, you need details that give the era. But even then, "brushstrokes" of just the "telling details" are what work best.

    My own approach is to get the details in, then take them out, then maybe put more in, take some out, etc. Keep doing that until, after the final take-out, what's still resonates with everything that you took out. Sounds weird, I know, but if you saw it clearly enough to put it in, it's there after you snip.

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  5. I guess it has to fit the genre. I read a YA dystopian once that was so lacking in worldbuilding, it was hard to understand the world the author created or what was going on in the story.

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  6. I'm a bare-bones writer, so I always have to go back and add description. I try and do it like you - a line here or there - since I don't like reading long descriptions either.

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  7. As you said Rachna, I think the subject and persona around which you are writing dictates the description of character !

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  8. I have the opposite problem...I put in too much description:) Oh well, cest la vie:)

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  9. This is interesting..I always wanted to know..because I have been inspired by Jhumpa Lahiri who indulges in a lot of description.

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  10. Hi friends, I am enjoying everyone's take on descriptions. I have realized that one to two line descriptions enhance a story, while long descriptions weigh it down. A little description does no harm, infact it helps readers in visualizing the scenes.

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  11. Description can be fun. But in fantasy, the world building allows for much more description than contemporary. You have to show what the world you are building looks like, what fun!

    A bit of description helps the reader, but too much and the reader will be bogged down. The readers want to visualize a lot of the description on their own. *waving*

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  12. I add a lot of detail but end up editing some out later on. This is what works for me. I think engaging the reader through their five sense is important doe an interesting story.

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  13. one of the most detailed descriptions I've read is the first chapter of 'God of Small Things'....I think she described a cobweb for about 2 pages..if i remember correctly.

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  14. I tend to be sparse in my descriptions. I think tho, if you make sure to describe the most important details, you don't need to be wordy to do a good job. :)

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  15. I used to indulge in a LOT of description. Not so much anymore. Readers have a vivid imagination. All they need is a seed to get them going.

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  16. For me, I prefer the less is more style. But less doesn't mean none. I think description can be very important for building a good reading experience. However, too much and it bogs down the story for me. I do my best to find a balance in my own writing.

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  17. I tend to over describe. When I'm revising I take out descriptions and my CP's urge me to cut some more. I prefer tight writing, so I agree with them, especially during moments of tension when details bog down the pace.

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