Why am I writing about this boring topic? Lately, more lavish description than is needed or wanted seems to be creeping in some fiction. While our writing instructors tell us “less is more,” and encourage us to omit descriptive phrases, we still feel compelled to endlessly describe.
“Her lovely eyes resembled pieces of emerald, shadowed by long, lush lashes, set in an alabaster face worthy of the most beautiful of angels.” (I made that up.) First of all, this passage must be from the Hero’s POV. How many men do you know, or have ever existed had thoughts like this? “Her eyes sure were pretty, sort of green.” A cowboy might think; or a modern man might say this: “Her eyes were so pretty, I wish I had the words to describe them.”
AVOID detailed descriptions of characters. Elmore Leonard in his Ten Rules of Writing, says, In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, yet we see the couple and know them by the tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.
However, I need either some description of the characters in some manner, or none at all. Why? Because I visualize the characters, and unless I have a clue early on I’ll paint a picture of them myself. If an author waits until about the fourth or fifth chapter to finally let me know the girl is petite, buxom, with coal-black hair hanging almost to her waist, I might have her pictured her as tall, lithe, and blond. By that time I have so much invested in my version, the author’s description makes me irritable.
AVOID great detailed descriptions of places and things. We don’t need to impress our readers with the beauty of our story setting. If we go on and on about it, heaping up adjectives and adverbs along the way, we run the risk of losing our readers because they have become weary and slam the book shut.
Again, as a reader myself, I do need to know in some creative way the surroundings or setting of the novel.
Now that I’ve offered this advice, I’m still in the process of “how much description is too much.” Or maybe I should be learning how to include my descriptions without listing everything in one paragraph.
I do love to write. Here’s an descriptive excerpt from a WIP. Someday I hope to finish it. ~~From A Life Worth Living~~
“Mama, do we get cake? It’s daytime.”
Teresa said to her daughter, “Yes, I know, sweetie, but sometimes we get cake in the daytime when we have company.”
Teresa said, “Let’s say grace. Shall we?” She looked at Guy for his approval.
Guy nodded, not knowing what was proper or what was not. It had been a long time since he or anyone else he knew said grace over a piece of cake, let alone one hard biscuit filled with weevils, or one glop of tasteless corn mush for breakfast, eaten standing up, ready to run at a moment’s notice if shells began to explode around them.
“Mr. Reynolds? Would you say grace?”
Guy remained frozen, as terrified as he had been at times when he ran for his life, his rifle cocked and ready, through bombings and gunfire and thick, black, greasy smoke. He sat there, his heart pounding, his head bursting with the sound of weapons and explosions, visibly shaking and looking at the cake, seeing instead, blood, and men’s intestines spilling out, and hearing unearthly groans and screams.
Hell couldn’t be much worse, he thought. But he looked up and sought her beautiful blue eyes, the color of the sky in Brussels when the smoke cleared and the sun shone on the destruction of war that men inflicted on each other. God help him, he thought he would cry. No, he thought, with steely determination, I’ll not let her see my weakness and pain.
“Yes, ma’am. Let’s bow our heads.”
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