1. vyleside
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    vyleside Member

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    Describing buildings: Is it necessary?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by vyleside, Sep 8, 2008.

    I'm currently working on writing a novel. Right now, I'm writing a section that's describing an old news report that takes place outside a police station. I'm torn between describing the building (which I am terrible at, as I have no knowledge of architecture) or just describing it as a "police station".

    If I go with the former, I can imagine readers getting more confused at my clumsy attempt at describing the building, whereas if I go with the latter, readers will instantly be able to imagine what a police station looks like.

    The downside for me is that by avoiding the issue, I know I'll get tripped up later on when I'm trying to describe a pretty important building to the story.

    So, two questions:

    1) Do you feel it's better to sometimes bypass complex descriptions in favour of letting the reader create their own image (especially when it's a common object).

    2) Do you have any tips/resources that will help with describing buildings? I'm using this picture as my point of reference for the station: http://www.you-are-here.com/building/police_station.jpg. How would you describe it?

    Thanks :)
     
  2. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Well, if anything is going to happen there, you'll have to describe it, but if nothing happens in or around it, then just stick to police station.

    1.) YEs, but only if the entire story would be better that way.
    2.) No, Sorry.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Only describe what is necessary for the purposes of the story. Let the reader's imagination fill in the majority of the details.
     
  4. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    An ignorance of architecture doesn't mean you can't describe a building nicely. I suck at architecture...I don't know what all those terms are, nor what style buildings are in, unless it's something really generic (like "Victorian"...and I think that's the only style I kind of recognize!--when people say stuff like "Colonial" or "Craftsman," I haven't a clue what it looks like).

    Just say perhaps what material the building is made out of...its general shape and color...its size...and anything that stands out as unusual. For example, our local police station, I might say something like, "It was a small, squarish, red-brick building with a parking lot off to the side." If there's something really weird about a building I'd mention that: "The county museum had bars over the windows, seeing as it was once the old county jail."

    Notice I didn't get indepth on any styles or architectural terminology there? I didn't look at the police station in your link, so maybe going on that you can figure out how to describe a building. The majority of readers probably aren't savvy on architecture terms and styles either. Just using a basic description might actually work better than using all the complex terminology because I know such an advanced description would quickly lose me.

    As the others have said, don't feel you NEED to go indepth describing the place unless knowing what it looks like is important to the plot. If the building is important enough to be featured in the story, then I'd go with at least a basic description like the ones I gave, but you don't need to get into huge detail unless the story warrants it.
     
  5. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wholly agree. Unless the building's specific appearance is important, don't bother describing it in detail. As a reader, nothing is more annoying to me than knowing extraneous details. However, if there is something about the building that becomes important later on (such as if a murder scene takes place behind the bushes in front of the third window on the left while the curtains are up) you may want to point that out.

    And I would suggest not knowing architecture. If you don't know what it is, your readers probably won't know either, so don't go out of your way to use technical terms.
     
  6. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    Some writers add in description of buidligns and other things just to enhance the image the readers have, while some prefer to allow the readers to use their imagination. If the buildings features are somehow pertenant to the story, then add them. Otherwise, limit the descriptions.
     
  7. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    I would say describe in slight detail. In thsi one instance I would say be vague. Give enough for the reader's mind to create its own image.

    Other then that you do niot need to describe it. Let the reader get involved with the story by filling in some blanks
     
  8. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    If you feel the need to add some sort of description but are uncomfortable with the entire scene, you may want to consider adding detail to just one room of the structure.

    For example, if you want to convey a feeling of a derelict building, just describe the lobby or the foyer. The reader will automatically generalize that feeling to the entire structure and it will save you from all the tech verbiage.
     
  9. BellLily
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    BellLily New Member

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    If it is important to the story (which I'm assuming it is because you're asking) then a brief description would be necessary at least. For people like me who doesn't see too many police stations (I just don't notice them and have never been in one) it'd be pretty good to give an overview. But we don't need to know that the bush to the left is 3.96 centimeters wider then the bush on the right. We really don't need another Tolkien out there. He did wonderfully well the first time.
    As for describing your station. I'd probably mention its very tidy looking. A tan color with detailed architecture (like the rounded windows) and the cars look like they're parked out back then in the garages (though they usually are huh? I think I'm thinking of fire fighter stations). Maybe mention its somewhat small looking as well. Just enough to let people work off of to create they're own image.
     
  10. Nolberto_Engelbert
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    Nolberto_Engelbert New Member

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    If there's no purpose to the description of the police-station, leave it out. A story can work with elaborate portrayals of place and architecture, or with little mention at all.

    However, pointless detail is nothing but filler and is irksome for the reader.
     
  11. ParanormalWriter
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    ParanormalWriter Contributing Member

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    Generally, if its something like a police station you're trying to describe, I'd say only a small amount of description is necessary. For example, you might mention if a building is red brick or has some unusual features. Over all though, people already have a mental image of what skyscrapers, firehouses, etc. look like and a lot of detail may just bore them.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    If there are going to be scenes there then yes. It only takes a sentence or two if done well. And then later on in another scene you can bring out a different detail about the building, and so on.

    It always helps to see how good novelist have done it.
     
  13. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I would say no, but I am in the 'little detail big effect' camp, I write only a few details down and my reader paints the picture in his or her head.
     
  14. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    If things are going to happen there, describe it. If only a brief description is necessary, just give it a brief one. Like everyone else has said, describe only what's necessary to your story. :)
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...that depends on the work itself and even the part of the work in question... while one story/scene will seem to call for describing things in detail, others may not...

    ...it also depends on what you want the reader to be picturing, as they read: the character, the action, or the setting... or some combination of the 3...

    ...not really... it rests on your ability to picture it in your own mind... if you have the requisite imagination to see what you're writing about and the necessarily broad vocabulary, you should be able to put into words what you see in your head...

    ...i'd have to know what style you're writing in, to do a good job, as a noir style story will vary greatly from a romance, or a straight mystery, or a sci-fi-ish thriller... here's just one way i might do it:

    ...that's just one fairly brief description... if you want to see something more detailed, let me know... hope it helps...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  16. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I was going to go with tan, but Maia's rose-hued sounds much better.

    She passed by a black & white parked in front of the box-shaped precinct. With arm outstretched, her fingers brushed the rose-hued stones, as she turned into the doorway. She strode through its arched doorway. As she opened the door, it stuck for a moment. She signed. When are they going to get that fixed, she wondered.

    When ever possible, I like to describe boring things with action, rather than strait description.
     

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