1. Spearnymph
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    Spearnymph Member

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    Descriptions

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Spearnymph, Dec 31, 2008.

    How much do you describe in your novel? Personally, as a reader and writer, I like having as many details as possible about something that is sensed and experienced - eg. settings, appearances, actions. I'm curious as to your preferences on this. As a reader, for example, do you like making up the appearance of a character for yourself, or would you rather get it all from the author? As a writer, do you find yourself holding back or striving to paint a picture as meticulously as you can?

    I realise this is a rather vague topic, but I'd like to hear your take on descriptions.
     
  2. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    This is one of the hardest things in the entire world for me.
    I tend to lose the focus of the story from trying to figure out how to use an adequate amount of description. I only WISH I could go so far that holding back would be the problem...
     
  3. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    I think description is based on weather its needed or not, does it help the story or bog it down? In the character department i tend to let the reader form his own image, appearance wise. I try to create vivid images of settings and places in as little description as possible, because that;s my style, i'm not to flowery. In actions and background if etc... i guess i try to main tain a balence between not to wordy/moving the story along.
    Sometimes its quite hard to get the imagery right, practice and review and thinking i suppose.

    That's my piece of the curiosity puzzle.
     
  4. SarahN
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    SarahN Member

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    I think it really depends on how the writer writes, if that makes sense. When I write I often see the work like it is movie in my head. Often times I do get bogged down in the tiniest details to the point of overstating. I have been told that I need to use a time release method of giving details. Basically I don't have to give everything away all at once, just tid bits at a time.

    I think though too it is really going to depend on what you are writing and how much time you have to help your audience get the picture you want to paint.

    I have some background in script writing and as a result am a very visual writer. I also have a background in sports journalism so sometimes the use of description works and sometimes it doesn't. I think you need to know your audience and what they are capable of and what their expectation is. With children (especially younger ones) it takes them a while to get to the point where they aren't just reading words on a page but are seeing the story as a whole so in general you do need more description to some extent, although it has to be carefully weighed out so it doesn't out balance the story itself.

    I think in general though, I write it the way I see it and then can go back and edit and cut things out. I would rather cut than add but that is just me! Lol!
     
  5. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I don't like a lot of description. If the world is very different or the place unique, I like a good amount of visual ques, but nothing beyond that.

    As far as people go, just tell me their hair style and color. If they are heavy or thin. I don't need to know what kind of nose they have unless it is important. I think narrating about the character is better.

    He has callused scared up hands and a nice body from all the years of hard work. He is dedicated to his work and takes it seriously. However, he has a gentle, romantic side. He's the kind of man that would place rose petals on the bed before making love.

    His face it rough looking but handsome, and his eyes are gentle. If he would just stop wearing those flannel shirts, he wouldn’t look like such a farmer boy.

    I can paint a better picture from something like this than a bunch of description.
     
  6. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write description the way I like to read it. It drives me up the wall when I'm reading a story and the author feels like he/she has to detail every stitch of clothing and misplaced hair on their characters. Neil Gaimon is just plain infuriating this way. Every new character gets a complete laundry list of what they are wearing.

    Now what I do like is for the MC to be described a little at a time and hopefully by the reactions of the other characters in the story. If I have one person in the story I probably won't spend much time with physical description, much to the dismay of some of my reviewers. I am too sparse in that area. But I will never introduce a character like this.

    Harry entered the cafe and shook the rain from his dark brown hair. He slipped his gray tweed jacket with patches on the arms across his hairy arm and looked around the cafe with his piercing blue eyes. Standing over six feet tall, he was an imposing presence and many eyes in the room followed him taking in his Oxford shoes and dress slacks with a blue Chambray shirt tucked in.

    Uhg... and on and on ad nauseum... I've actually seen such drivel in published works. then the next paragraph usually goes into more description. And some are even more ham handed than the above ad-libbed example.

    I prefer to drive stories along with action, sprinkling description as needed. Too much description slows the pace down imo and usually I skip over the parts in a story like that.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    One guideline I constantly hammer in (to myself as well as to others), is to only describe what would be significant to the point of view narrator. Because I nearly always choose a character point of view, or at least a point of view that would fit with someone who could be present in the scene, that means I won't describe something that said observer would take for granted.

    If the POV is the main character, he or she will not, as a rule, be thinking about his or her hair or eye color, or facial shape, chest size, etc. Neither will anyone who is with the character on a daily basis. Now if your main character encounters a strikingly beautiful woman, what he notices about her will give a hint as to what she looks like, but will also reflect his own character. So maybe his attention will zoom in at warp speed to her breasts or her legs, and that tells you something of her appearance THROUGH HIS EYES, and of his personal vaues. So be selective in descriptions.

    Also, what the POV character notices will depend upon what is happening in the scene. If your character finds himeslf facing three knife-weilding thugs, the last thing he will be paying attention to is their detailed descriptions - his eyes will be on those blades, ane how each thug is using them. If he has a chance to catch his breath, he may catch fleeting details of their appearance as they are fleeing. especially if he is a trained policeman or P.I. So let the context drive (and limit) description, as well as the nature of the POV observer.

    Always be aware of your POV.
     
  8. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I am a minimalist

    When it comes to descriptions, and I will defend my reason why. When one looks at someone, or something, that you've never seen...you have a preconceived notion as to who they are. I will take an example that Max Lucado used for different reasons...

    One day he was signing one of his theological books at a church when a older woman came up. To make a long story short, she told him in no uncertain terms that he "wasn't Max Lucado. Max Lucado was older, a little shorter and bald..."

    Well, like her we have our ideas of what characters look like. I could describe Kate ALmir to you, and the two of us would still have different ideas. While mine would either be Kristen Kloke (Shane Vance on Space above and beyond) or Yancy Butler (Sarah Pezzini on TNT's Witchblade); you might not think the same.

    So, to solve the problem, I keep my descriptions to a minimum. It allows the reader to not only have their pre-conceived notions AND use their imagination better to make the scene. At the same time, you haven't cornered them into having to think like you-since we all think differently.

    that's just my .02
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes the reader's default impressions can get in the way, and that is one argument for getting descriptions in early.

    Recently I was reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods as part of our Book of the Month discussion. Shadows are dark, so when I first encountered the main character, Shadow, in prison for assault, everything I read built a picture of Michael Clark Duncan, a large bald black man trying to learn from his mistake. Any embedded racial stereotype aside, and I'm shamed by perhaps yeilding to one, I built a pictuer of the character that was shattered by later description. I got the size right, but this shadow was white with sandy hair, and I had to completely erase and redraw my mental image of him.

    It's a trade off. I'm very impressed with Gaiman's descriptive ability, especially considering that his entry level medim was graphic novels, but I feel he dropped the ball this time in deferring a major component of description until the third chapter or so. On the other hand, it wasn't very obvious that the reader needed a solid description of Shadow earlier.

    Race shouldn't matter so much, but in the context of American justice. it does. It would make a difference in how his community perceived him when accused, and other aspects that were alluded to in the first couple of chapters.
     
  10. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    race and sex are always preconceived notions

    Due to human nature...which sometimes you want to play to, sometimes you don't. It depends on what you're writing. It took almost all of "Ice Station" by Matthew Reilly for me to know that Scarecrow's hair was black. The only real identifying mark you know up to then is the scars on his eyes...thus the name...
     
  11. BitPoet
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    BitPoet Member

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    For me, that depends very much on a number of factors:
    • How important is the character? For a real main character, I want to know some details, more than absolutely neccessary for the story itself;
    • How many main characters are there? The more of them there are, the more details help to keep them distinguished in the beginning, before their individual character traits have been worked out;
    • How different is a character? Thoroughly describing a character can also be a means to make him stand out and emphase his speciality, make the reader focus on him long before his actions give reason to do so;
    • What's the overall tone of the story? In a travelbeat story, a too fine grained description might simply disrupt the flow, while the same level of detail could be perfect in an epic fantasy novel.

    Generally, I tend to like as much description as neccessary to understand and distinguish the characters and as little as possible to not overexpose on them and turn the reader away from the plot. That's always a subjective thing, granted, so there's not neccessarily an absolute rule.

    Some time a ago I got a good pointer in that regard: if you need to describe a lot, use it as a stylistic element on its own. Let lengthy, detailed descriptions always directly preceed a piece of action. Then the reader will soon (subconsciously) realize that there's going to be a new development after this bit of exposition and not be bored or distracted by it.
     
  12. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    My serial isn't too high on description. Trying to remedy it in my novel, key word is trying. Problem is describing enough. It's always been a problem for me and beyond "You need to describe more", nobody's been able to give me any good advice.
     
  13. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I like a mix of good description and just leaving it up to the reader. In my writing I'm general with things that aren't as important, or are generic looking. I'm specific with things that are unusual or interesting or important (if a character's hair color is unusual, I want to make it known what their hair color is so the reader doesn't get the wrong impression).

    I'm the same in reading and writing. Good description on the things that are unusual or striking or important, general description on the things that aren't. It's impossible to explain further without detailed examples, so I won't.
     
  14. Show
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    I could go for that.
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    My natural inclination is to be economical with description, and I rarely give a 'full body' description of characters unless it's really relevant, e.g. old schoolfriends meeting again after a long time, and remarking the passage of the years on each other's faces.

    However, since I've been using where I live (Turkey) as a setting more, I've found that I've had to provide more description. To me, it's just a mundane everyday occurance, an old gypsy woman collecting rubbish, as it is to my character--but since the reader is unused to this kind of thing, I get people wanting to have more detail because they 'don't get it'.

    So I guess it's not just the viewpoint of the character, as Cognito points out, it's the amount of knowledge the reader has that should be considered.
     

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