A few weeks ago I asked readers to give me their opinion on descriptions in a novel. Is it necessary? When is too much? I received answers that were all over the board. However, the one thing that came up consistently was: Is the description relevant to the plot and/or the character? Below you’ll find a number of snippets I received regarding the use of descriptive writing. Enjoy and heed! The readers and writers have spoken!
“I think there is a lot of difference between genres, for my own efforts it has been up to the story and characters. Even in the same book the amount of description has varied, for key scenes I might add more for others less so. In one of my books I have a very emotional scene on a beach, which stays with the lead character forever. I describe the setting extensively and the feeling and sights the characters see. For another scene the lead just walks past a building with almost no description.
Does the descriptive writing add to plot, characterization or conflict?If it doesn’t, it’s out of there no matter how brilliant I think it is.
The other criteria for descriptive passages and dialogue – if my own eyes cross after 2 pages I’ve done something wrong!
Readers aren’t stupid, they will notice if a world is unconvincing.
Hm, honestly I think it depends on the pacing of the scene. While writing I find there’s a time and place for descriptions and it’s up to the writer to decide when it is.
I find descriptions tend to slow the pace down a bit. It adds feeling to the scene and can really allow the reader to enter into what the character is experiencing. Sometimes it’s beneficial to add the description of the wall color because maybe that soft lilac contributes to the mood of the scene. However, this being said, you probably don’t want to describe that soft lilac if you’re character is in the middle of a high stakes chase.
Though, as a reader, I don’t like reading full page after pages descriptions. I find them a little dry and I find myself going…. WHY?
So,I dunno. It’s up to you and your style.
I believe it is too much when the reader notices it. In The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett spent a full paragraph describing an ash tray that had nothing to do with the story, but it flowed so smoothly as to be unnoticeable.
Well, take Dickens for example, excellent writer. He got paid by the word. It shows. I don’t need to know a whole page on how you got the name Pip…
Write as much you want as long as its interesting. Too little can be too much too if it’s boring.
I guess I fall into the less-is-more category when it comes to descriptive work. I have no interest in knowing the color of paint on the walls and the pattern on the drapes unless it’s significant to the story somehow. I feel the same when it comes to character description. I’ve read some books where the hero was said to be handsome but then a detailed description was given of things I didn’t find handsome at all! For me, more general terms work best–eye and hair color along with height and build. If he has tats or scars or facial hair then that’s fine, but a head-to-toe description isn’t necessary, for me.
I also think too much description can ruin an intimate scene. I recently read a book where the author described a couple kissing. For some reason she thought it was necessary to tell us all the things the guy’s tongue touched in the girl’s mouth, with dentist-like terminology and I thought that was completely gross and unnecessary. THOSE type of details ruin a story, in my opinion. So, yes, I’m definitely a less-is-more type reader when it comes to descriptions.
The Harry Potter books–and too much fluff and padding. After wading through a few I stuck to the movies.
It all depends on its placement. I enjoy some descriptive background, but right at the apex of a suspenseful or dramatic scene is not the place to pull back and insert a paragraph about what the protagonist is wearing, or her difficult childhood. That’s just going to make me mad. You’d be surprised how many authors do this!
I don’t mind a little “stage direction” myself. A simple statement can be read in so many different ways. “Tell me about it,” for instance. Did she say it sarcastically? Was she sympathizing with the person? Was she demanding an explanation? Ideally, the reader can tell from the context, but if not, if the author can’t SHOW me the inflection, I don’t mind a little hint: “Tell me about it,” she said with an air of resignation.
Description, in the right places, and if not overused, adds flavor and depth to a story.
Descriptive writing, to me is like dialog. If it is natural and conveys with clarity what the author is trying to communicate it is not overdone. For a reader, it is done right if it does not draw attention to itself. That is to say, it should not break the illusion that what one is only reading is actually happening. The good writer makes me forget that he’s the wizard behind the curtain. His descriptions make me “live” the scene. Descriptive words are the spice, so they can easily be overused. Like spices, the strong (make that unusual ones) can be all one tastes.
Perhaps I am not the usual reader. When I enjoy a book (or a series,like Dune), there is never too much description. I hate it when the story finally ends. I suppose it’s all a matter of taste.
I once did a blog post comparing Hemingway and Faulkner. Faulkner’s style is very descriptive with beautiful flowing sentences while Hemmingway’s style has been described as a complete absence of style. The vast majority of writers today copy the style of Hemmingway.
Description has to draw pictures for the reader. Has to be colorful, interesting and brief. One of the things I do when I take my wife to shop. is visit a good bookstore – I don’t buy books, I just read the first two pages. I look for good opening paragraphs and how they introduce characters. A lot of times I’m disappointed by beginning paragraphs followed by what I call FILL.
It’s too much when the reader notices it, meaning s/he’s pulled out of the story world and is back in the real world of reading a book and admiring the phrasing.
When the descriptions become too wordy and don’t really add anything to the story. If the reader begins skimming over pages to find a spot where the story finally begins to move forward, the author has lost the reader’s interest and possibly the story’s focus.
Slowing the pace down. I like that. And it’s a good benchmark. Thanks!
Interesting what you said about attention span. I read somewhere that because of twitter people’s attention spans have significantly reduced. That may be true and if so, may be the death of description!