Saturday, July 31, 2010


Remember I am no expert. My knowledge on any writing topic comes from a few years of self-study, and lest you think I know a great deal, let me set you straight. I am no…Sorry, I’ve already said that.

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.”

Celia Yeary
Romance…and a little bit o' Texas
TEXAS BLUE-eBook and Print


  1. When I want to emphasize details in a scene or description, I limit it to the three most important things. Otherwise I keep description to a minimum. And as a reader, no matter what the hero's hair or eye color, in my mind's, I switch it to my personal preference for those things. So I recreate him in my mind anyway, and constant reminders that he's something else take me out of the story.

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  3. Wow, loved your excerpt, Celia! I think it was right on, it brought me straight into his turmoil and dilemma!

  4. Lovely excerpt, Celia.

    Description is a tricky thing. I think sometimes as authors we throw in so much because we've spent so much time figuring out how we want our characters and setting to look like.

    When I read, I do want enough description to set the scene and let me know what the characters look like, but not enough to detract from the story.

  5. Hi Celia,
    This is one I definitely struggle with. Most of my work is overly descriptive. But, I am basically a nosy person. If you tell me someone passed a tree on their journey, I want to know if it's a pine or an oak, is it short or tall, is it alive, and is it on the left or the right? LOL However most readers could care less unless a body is hanging from it.
    Enjoyed the excerpt and would love to see you go on with it.

  6. I love the way you wove description into your excerpt and hope you finish that wip.
    It's tricky stuff, and I think I'm guilty of 'telling' rather than'showing'.

  7. Celia, you know I love this book already. So get on with it, please. I can't wait to finish it so don't leave me hanging. Good points on description, too. Thanks.

  8. I prefer bare minimum for descriptions. If it's too long, as a reader, I skip over them.

    Loved the excerpt! Powerful imagery that sucked you right into the heart of the man. Loved it.

  9. I'm with the consensus, snippets well placed is all I need, because long, worrdy ones are not going to get read.

    And like you, if character descriptions aren't given soon enough, I'm going to envision my own and get mad at the author for trying to impose a different one on several chapters in.

  10. Celia, spot on! I'm the consensus, well placed snippets do me good and that's what I strive for. I think of it like this: use a good economy of words to nail the description and move on.


  11. Very well said, Celia. There has to be enough description to dial you in but not enough to make your eyes glaze over.

    Enjoyed the snip of your WIP. Guy comes across so clearly, I can picture him.

  12. LIANA--that's the tricky thiing about too much description or descritpion at the wrong time--it takes us out of the story. I skipped long love scenes because of so much description of each touch, move, etc.--gets boring, I want the story to move along.Celia

    Miss Mae--thank you! I'm still working on it--slowly, though. Celia

    Debra--you've hit upon a good point. We know so much more about our story, the characters, the setting, that sometimes we're compelled to tell all. The reader doesn't really need to know everything. (but I'm so tempted!) Celia

    Rebecca--good point-we're nosy. I think most authors are--we are observers and we plant little tidbits in our brains all day. Celia

  13. Sherry--that's the danger of too much description. It becomes telling instead of showing. Good point! Celia

    Linda--oh, I'd forgotten you'd parts of it for me. Thank you! I would love to finish it, but when? And how? And what's next? I/ at a crucial point in the story, and I need a big plan! Celia

    Joanne--thank you! Glad you like it. Yes, the parts readers tend to skip are useless--if only we could all learn that! Celia

    Bekki--yes, and those snippets should be in showing, not telling. That's where some of us fail. Celia

  14. Steph--I like your tip--"good economy of words." I'll try to remember that. Celia

    Maggie--definitely don't want our eyes to glaze over. When someone tells me she can "see" my characters, I feel very successful! Doesn't take much for me. Celia

  15. Excellent blog, Celia... but, I'm not sure what to say. Still, here goes...

    I will say it irks me when I don't know the physical description of the heroine and hero soon enough.

    While I don't care for passage after passage of only description, I will say I've read authors who write so brilliantly I'm drawn into the setting as if I were there. But, I'm a sucker for beauty, whether it's the written word, or the scene being described.

    Minimal description works great for certain types of stories, and certain writing styles, however as a reader I'm really 'over it'. I like to know more, to feel more. I don't want to skim. I want to indulge. Or, I don't want fast-food McDonalds, I want a banquet, a feast of sensations. I want a full, rich, evocative story.

    CELIA, your snippet really gets inside the soul, and delivers the truth of your story. I think that's one of your gifts as a writer.

  16. SAVANNA--I thank you sincerely for the compliment. So sweet.
    You said you've read authors who draw you into the setting as if you're there. But I bet they don't stop the action and begin, "to the left, we have green rolling hills, and to your right..." I'm being silly--it's late in the day and I'm ready for a glass of wine and a plate of cheesy, gooey nachos. Back to the topic--I know exactly what you mean, a writer who is skilled at keeping the action--even though slow or smooth-- while letting you know through a character's eyes what the surroundings are like.LaVyrle Spencer could do that. Just such a wonderful writer and she wrote with such depth of emotion, I have all 26 of her books collected, and have read almost every one three times. (she did write two I did not care for--very flat for her.) And also about the physical appearance of characters. I MUST know that some way, and again, it's a skill some authors have down pat.
    I'm writing a Christmas story about a 6-foot tall girl who waits with her brother at the airport for his friend who will be her groomsman to her maid of honor at the brother's wedding.She turns to her brother and asks,"Tell me again, Sam, how tall is he?"
    "I dunno. Tall. Like you. dont' worry."
    She says, "Is he as tall, or taller? Oh, please don't say 'not as tall.'"
    That's the first thing I want the reader to know--that this girl is tall and she's dealt with it her entire life.
    Oh, yes, characters are fun, aren't they?
    Thank you for commenting--I always love to read what you have to say. Celia

  17. Physical descriptions are so important, we have to visualize our hero/heroines right off. Little bits and pieces later on to round out the character are always interesting, I think.