Happy Valentine's day to all of you! I hope you have a wonderful celebration! I guess I could have written a blog about valentine's day, but I figured there would be plenty of them today. So, back to the topic at hand: Description. A friend of mine requested this one.
Description, as my writing coach used to say, is the most important part of the story, and her favorite. This is where you have to be careful about what needs more and what needs less. You can find yourself over doing it and your readers will be skimming.
The other problem is if you're not painting a good visual and the reader will get confused. And, of course, not enough and the reader is disappointed.
So how do you determine where and when, and how much? This is not a simple question, but I will try to narrow it the best I can.
First, you have to go back to the old adage and ask yourself these questions with each scene. Did I describe this thoroughly and is it important enough to add more detail? There are several places where you need descriptions and some where you need to leave it to the readers imaginations.
1. Describing your characters and what they are wearing.
You do not have to completely describe your characters. I have seen where the writer just said 'when he shook his hand, he noticed the freckles that laced it'. That gives you a visual of how the person looks. Probably of Irish decent and has a freckled face and red hair. Your main character cannot describe himself, since you are in their point of view. You can add little bits such as: She ran her fingers through her long blonde hair.
You really don't have to describe the characters in detail, unless they are an alien, or an extreme paradox to your other characters. In my book, the Djen needed more description because they weren't like the people Stevie and her friends were used too. And, the reader needed to know the differences. My writing coach used to say the easiest way to pick out a new writer as if the put their main character in front of a mirror and described themselves. You can add little bits of their looks through dialog.
Dressing the characters: This is the same as describing what they look like. If you are introducing a new character, you can add a little about what they are wearing. There is no need for every detail. Your reader can discern this on their own. Example: She walked toward me in her pale evening gown, carrying her three inch heals by their straps.
Again, if it is an unusual character, such as someone from another planet, or your character is being brought in front of the king and you character only wore rags, then there is quite a contrast.
2. Describing a scene.
This one can be tough. You know if you are describing an important scene, such as your main character seeing an alien city for the first time, you want to add more description, but you don't have to write two pages worth. Just enough to give the reader a visual.
If you want to describe a room, or a house, unless this is really important to your story, such as the character finds themselves in a dingy cell, then don't over do the description. If it is a room that is pertinent, then add more otherwise, just a little is enough.
If your scene is an action scene, then you want to describe as much as you can to give the visual, but this is usually a fast moving scene, so choreography is important here. If your reader can't see how your characters were killed, they will be stopped in mid-read and reread it trying to figure it out. This is where a critique partner or beta-reader really comes in handy! Another set of eyes are always helpful.
A trip can also be tough to decide what is important. When I took Stevie and her friends on their quest, they had to travel across the country. At first I had detailed every part, and luckily for me, my critique partners told me there was no reason to add every detail, such as where they stopped for gas, and food, and what road they took. You only need to show a little of this and unless something important happens along the way, then get them to their destination. Once there, I did have to add more description of the lay of the land for effect. It was in an area that most people do not travel, Princess Royal Island. This area is protected for one, because of the spirit bear, and is a difficult terrain.
3. A love scene.
Since this is an area where, even though I have kissing scenes with Stevie and her love, I don't have a lot of experience with. I have read these scenes and one thing that sticks in my mind, is I don't need a whole lot of detail here. For me, how many different ways can you describe two people having sex? I have seen writers go overboard here, and I don't believe you have too. I think sweet love scenes are better for descriptions, but that's just me. But, to describe 'every' detail is a bit much, if you know what I mean?!
4. Descriptions between dialog.
This is one I see done way over the top. I know that internal thought is important, but there is no reason to add it in between each line of dialog. A little is enough. Example:
Katy couldn't wait to hold Jim in her arms. She ran to him and he pulled her in. "I've missed you so much," she cried. She looked deep into his eyes and remembered what he had said to her the last time they were together. How he would come back to her.
"I'm so glad to be home," Jim said.
"I had hoped we could spend the evening together," she added. The last time he came home he had gone straight to work, and they had no time together. She needed to be alone with him. It had been a long time since they spent a quiet evening.
I hope this helps you to understand what I'm talking about. This is just a little example, but I have seen where writers continue this through almost every dialog, it's a little annoying.
Well, I hope this post helps. It is hard to tell you what is important for description and what isn't. You have to look at each of your scenes. The one example that always comes to mind for me is in the book The Secret Garden. There is a scene where the writer describes a flower for several pages. Now I don't know about you, but I don't need that much description about a flower. Of course, if it's a man eating plant like in Little Shop of Horrors, that's one thing, but that should give you an idea of what not to do.
Until next week, I hope all of you have a wonderful weekend and I look forward to your comments! Monday will be about Point of View.