1. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Describing the details

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Stammis, Oct 27, 2015.

    I am having difficulty imagining exactly how the characters looks like, how the architecture is, how the forest looks like and so on. Those are details that I skip when reading others works so I don't put a lot of effort when I write it myself. I just imagine a plain old forest, typical medieval cloths and plain medieval western buildings. Except when it is has no real world equivalent I have to be creative, but even then I just write that it is slick and spartan structures. Not very imaginative at all.

    I try to sit down and really think about it by sketching it out myself and searching on google for inspiration, but my sketchingings sucks. Do I need to hire an artist or can I simply skip being explicit about the details?
     
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  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You're never going to please everybody. Like you, I skip descriptive passages when I'm reading. I want a general sense of the setting - are we in a forest or a dungeon? is it night or day? - and a general sense of what a character looks like - gender, age, distinguishing features - and that's it. So that's what I describe when I'm writing. I've found most people who read my stuff don't need more and don't even notice that description is very sparse. Some do, but I've accepted that. I mention any detail that's important to the plot or characterisation so as far as I'm concerned they can fill in the blanks however much or little they like.

    I can't get my head around somebody needing a forest described to them, or the architecture of a building, but they exist. Is it all that important to cater to them? I've decided that no, it isn't.
     
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  3. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's definitely not necessary (nor is it recommended) to try to describe everything in perfect detail. Consider whose eyes the reader is seeing the scene through--which character is central to the scene? This is the character whose perspective should flavor the text, which means the text will match that's character's experience. What is that character seeing? How is she seeing it? What details does she notice? What observations does she make about it? What emotional response, physical response, and psychological response does it evoke? That's the important stuff. Give me the scene through the character, because it's the character I care about as a reader.
     
  4. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Hire an artist? I'm curious to know what difference you think that would make. I'm assuming you feel you need a picture to help describe the setting. Personally, I don't see how that would help as what you'd likely come up with is a load of info-dump 'telling'.

    Unlike @Tenderiser, I'm fond of lush description. I want to have a picture painted but, even so, I don't want a list of details thrown at me. What I want is (as @xanadu says) for the detail to be woven in as part of the POV character's experience and that shouldn't just amount to what he sees. In the case of the forest, I wouldn't want you to labour over the variety of trees, but you might want to mention the dry leaves crunching underfoot if you wanted me to know that the trees are deciduous and that it's autumn.

    My advice would be to concentrate less on what your character is seeing, and more about what he's feeling, just to get you out of that visual rut.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2015
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  5. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Thx everyone. I have been trying to come up with ideas for crests and while brainstorming, I guess I got caught up in the details because, unlike general descriptions of the settings, the details of the crests will be important clues in the book. So I need to get those right. I really admire the simple crests in game of thrones though.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm going to take a slightly different tack from the other excellent responses on this thread. Why not stick with plain old forest, plain old medieval clothes, etc? Not only will it make it a lot easier for you to visualise your scenes, but it will make it a lot easier for your readers to visualise as well. I don't think you need to go too far from what you know in order to construct a fantasy.

    When you set something in a forest, you can let people know if the trees are palm trees or fir trees, but you don't really have to go too much further than than. Ditto ...castle? I mean, it can be an elaborate castle like the ones on the Rhine, or it can be some half-ruined rickle o' stanes. If you can see it yourself (and you can google photos to give yourself some grounding in what these things look like) then you can just get on with your story. I think your writing will be better if you can actually visualise what you're writing about yourself.

    So put your medievally-costumed people in a forest enroute to a plain old garden-variety castle or village or town ...and write your new and unique story, set in a fictional location and time period. If an odd, out-of-place detail comes at you, well, just put it in.
     
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  7. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a good point. Not everything in the world is visually astounding. Hell, a lot of things in the world are pretty dull. Fantasy worlds are, most likely, pretty similar (unless they're not--of course, there may be stories where the scenery itself is a character of sorts). That way you can contrast dull background scenery with vivid, important details.
     
  8. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    I refuse to use a lot of details at once unless it is critically important. My setting is very unusual - settlements in the deep jungle, they have raised boardwalk platforms and elevated structures. The bi-annual rainy season causes flooding that is problematic for most communities. Much revolves around the channels and pathways, sluice systems, tiered warehouses, scaffolding-like constructions, illumination by bioluminscent plants, rain-collection arrays and tree-based textiles.

    Though, I do not like paragraphs of useless description which no one will remember anyways. So I break it up and detail only when it is relevant.

    (Edit - dropped a bunch of ranting)
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2015
  9. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    For my main series, which is set about 200 years in the future, I've opted to describe only the key features.
    Yes, the skyline is different, medical technology has made huge strides forward, new technologies have been discovered and there's even a colony on the moon, BUT the lifestyles of people are largely the same as they are today.

    Readers know what their own everyday lives are like, so I only describe the objects and processes which are different, interesting, or important to the plot. I don't know if that makes me lazy, but I personally find long-winded descriptions of how a futuristic world works to be boring.

    But you can't please everyone; some readers will want to know the innermost workings of a new invention / species / object from another planet / etc.
     
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  10. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    I actually got a lot of new ideas today. I live in Cambodia right now and I decided to go visit one of their national parks. Bokor is stunningly beautiful and has a lot of old French colonial buildings in the mountain. I have also been playing Ys: memories of Celceta, which takes place in a forest. Guess I just needed some inspiration...
     
  11. qWirtzy
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    qWirtzy Member

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    Perfect! I noticed that you mentioned at the beginning of the thread that you skip passages of description when reading, and my advice is simply...don't! Even if it's not of interest to you as a reader, reading others' work can be such a great inspiration as a writer that I consider it a must. Just think of it like homework and read a couple of those sections in your favorite books. You don't need to emulate their style, or even their content, but I bet there's an idea or two that will spark your imagination. It sounds like getting inspiration is already helping your process; books are kind of low-hanging fruit for more.
     
  12. Doctore
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    Doctore Member

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    Just a note here guys and gals, I'm one of those people who like to describe things in detail. I do it a lot in my writing, BUT only when I feel it is needed, like when opening to a new scene the reader hasn't encountered yet in my story. I do variations of descriptions, some long and involved and others shorter but still rather pretty AND it gives my reader a good idea of what it is in my vision. Now then, for this experiment, since descriptions are a problem for you, why not try using examples and reverence real world things, or even maybe something written from another novel? (just make sure you name them in and give due credit) That way you still give a general sense without having to use flowery words. Now, if you're curious if this is illegal, and or something frowned upon, I can tell you that it is not. I know of a few well known authors who have done this in the past, trust the Doc, you're in the clear.

    Good luck!
     
  13. qWirtzy
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    qWirtzy Member

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    Yes, I think your vision as an author one of the biggest losses when you use only the minimum of description. Not that you can control your readers to see things the way you've imagined them, but I do like to think that when people read my description that it's setting us both on similar paths as we journey through the world of my story. I'm a mega-describer, really Tolkien-esque.
     
  14. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    I've been forced to change my preference a bit, much like @qWirtzy says - the minimum of description can be a big loss. I do not need much description for my overactive mind to fill the pieces, but I have to admit that being unable to create the image is worse then over describing it. I shorted many cues, internal thoughts and such to the bare minimum which allowed known social cues to hint at meanings, motives and thoughts.

    What exists in my head is not what other readers will see - should try to "Bob Ross" the setting up a bit.
     
  15. Adhulari
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    Adhulari Member

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    I've been reading that a lot on this forum. I often make the mistake of describing things in too much detail. It's probably boring to the reader, but I love describing what things look like. You mentioned a forest doesn't need any additional description - but for some reason I always feel like it does. Is it dark and gloomy or full of light, is it autumn or spring, are there pine trees or is it all lush? I also like "zooming in" on one or two elements, like a certain tree or mushroom or whatever. It helps me completely immerse in the story, and I have a really hard time cutting all those details out of my description. 'A forest' simply doesn't do it for me.
     
  16. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    True. I guess what it comes down to is to decide wether they are needless details or just necessary to immerse the reader. I like to leave room for interpretation for the reader, when I, for instance, describe the appearance of someone.

    Also, sometimes the setting simple does not call for describing the details. For instance, if the setting is suppose to be ominous, description is outright essential! In contrast to, for instance, character development during dialogue.
     
  17. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    As I said, I like enough detail to get a general sense of the setting. I do want to know if it's morning or night, if the trees are bare or lush with leaves, if the effect is idyllic or oppressive. Two or three sentences are about my limit before I skip on to the next paragraph. But the fact is I know what a tree looks like, so if you tell me it's a tree and roughly what type (pine, oak) I'm all set, thanks. :D
     
  18. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a very interesting rule of thumb. It's probably shorter than my limit before I get bored.
     
  19. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know--having a rule of thumb here doesn't really make sense to me. Not all descriptions are created equal, after all. Long descriptions can indeed be called for, as well as short, bare-bones descriptions. It depends on context and POV more than anything else, at least in my experience.

    I think it's important to distinguish the POV of the description. Long, unwieldy passages about the plantlife in a forest and the way the light is bending through the trees coming from a dry, narrator-driven POV is absolutely going to bore the pants of the reader. But that same amount of description coming from a scientist who just stumbled into this magical forest, who's reacting emotionally to everything he's seeing, can be a very useful character-building, plot-building, or world-building tool. It all has to do with context--don't make it a dry report, make it a character-driven, emotion-driven response to stimulus.

    Like virtually everything else, it all depends on how it's written and what its purpose is.
     
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  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It isn't a rule of thumb. :) I stop reading when I get bored or realise the author is trying to tell me what a tree looks like. Unless it's something I've never come across (when it generally isn't because I don't read fantasy or sci-fi) about 2-3 sentences is usually enough for me. Of course, I would read on if it was interesting... but it rarely is, for me.
     
  21. qWirtzy
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    qWirtzy Member

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    "As long as it's not boring" is a rule I live by. A book can be any length as long as I'm engaged. It's such a bittersweet feeling to come to the end of a really long story, to feel the weight decreasing in my right hand as the pages turn, and to know that no matter how immersive its has been, I'm going to have to leave the world I've been journeying through. This is where good beta reading can be so important, and to have one or two specific areas that you want feedback on. In this example, is there too much description. Though I suppose that, yes, you can't please everyone. Write for yourself, I'd say.
     

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