Saturday, January 31, 2015

How Much is Too Much?

Description is a writer's paint brush. Here, the size of the tool definitely matters. Wielded delicately like the Russian monks who apply gold leaf to works of art with merely two sable hairs, tiny nuances of color have the potential to highlight and imprint a scene into a reader's memory. Using a four-inch flat brush in the same circumstance wastes paint and makes a mess.

There are instances when wide, bold strokes are exactly what is needed. Action scenes, for example, call for taut, short, quick description to convey the rapid progression of the scene. 
Bam! Zowie! He jumped, she grabbed, they stumbled into the dark. 
Who cares what they were wearing, unless it makes a difference in the action?
 Pavlova's too-long scarf caught in the door as the car sped off, choking her, dragging her to the pavement, breaking her neck.  
Do we need to read of what material the scarf was constructed, or what color it was? Is it vital to the action? If not, seriously consider omitting it.

When the scene is calm and reflective, bring the tiniest brushes into play.  
Verdant leaves dappled with golden sunlight shimmered, dancing with a flirtatious breeze. Freshly cut grass scented the air that lazy afternoon. 
Do you see a picture in your mind's eye? Good. Then move on to other elements of the scene or what happens next.

For me, over-description kills my interest. As you may surmise, I've recently dealt with a book written in this style. This author took about sixty pages to actually get to some sort of event. The story had a fascinating premise, but wasted my attention describing every room, drapery, and pillow. If the words, "I don't care" pop into my head, I normally close the book and shelve it. Since this was someone I know, when asked how I liked the book, I was gently honest and said that I still haven't finished it because it became a chore to wade through so much description. Evidently, I was not the only person to say this because this book is no longer available. [This is one more reason those who want to independently publish need to invest in hiring real editors, but that is fodder for another blog post.]

Keep your descriptions pithy and robust, and like a deliciously rich chocolate truffle you'll find less is definitely enough. Taking too much time describing surroundings can distract and confuse your reader, much like a long-winded conversion ends with "What were we talking about again?"

Happy writing,



Liz Fountain said...

Great tips and examples, Jude!


Jude Johnson said...

thanks, Liz!

Angelica Hart and Zi said...

You got to the heart of it. Readers today like snappy, quick and to the pointer's point.

There are times we indulge in long waxing and waning and playing with words, but indulge is the root word. We do it just for us. Yup, we have a 500 page manuscript that we play with when we want to just have fun.

We know it will go nowhere, but it reminds us of days gone by when flowery and purple had been the norm.

Then again, maybe, we tipped our memories in our favor just to goof off when pretending we don't have writers' block.