1. skistovasti

    skistovasti Member

    May 31, 2013
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    How do I stop myself from going on long-winded descriptions?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by skistovasti, Jun 5, 2013.

    I have a very annoying tendency of taking a description of something-which can often only need about one or two sentences at most-and going into very long, detailed descriptions which needlessly prolong my stories. I think it has two main causes-The first being that I want my "audience" (which is really just me) to picture what I'm picturing, something I know you really shouldn't do because I've always been under the impression that the best stories let the audience picture it how they want. Now these stories aren't intended to be shared, but I still like to write like a good writer should. The second cause is I have trouble describing things easily, so I seemingly HAVE to do this, otherwise I leave nothing but a blank page for the audience to work with. To provide an example, here's an excerpt from an old story of mine: "A long tail, made of intestines. The chest ripped open, with two claws made of the ribcage sticking out. The lower jaw had two massive fangs." This isn't as long as I normally go into, but it still feels unreasonably wrong, or that there's a better way to describe it. Any tips?
  2. Thomas Kitchen

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Nov 5, 2012
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    I'm Welsh - and proud!
    First off, you must read a lot. There are writers out there just like you, and reading how they do descriptions will help your own writing, at least subconsciously.

    Secondly, from your description I can sense that you're telling things to the reader, not showing them. If you don't understand that, take this example:

    "Tommy was a thief, and a very good one at that."

    "Tommy slithered in and out of the crowds, pick-pocketing anyone that looked upper-class or downright stupid; valuables were just as important as an easy mark. There was another - a woman with a big fat purse sitting on her shoulder. There must be millions of dollars in there, he thought hopefully."

    Which do you think sounds better? Hopefully you'll think the second one does. This is because I didn't truly tell you anything; I simply wrote it in such a way that everything was told through action or thought, although my example is definitely not the best!

    Finally, practise is key. Bring out a piece of paper and a pen. Look around the room for an object you wish to describe, then write a description as best you can. Mix the styles - one description could be only a sentence in length, but the next could be a paragraph. Eventually you'll become better at it and you'll be able to create a smoother-flowing story and plot.

    Hope I helped. :)
    2 people like this.
  3. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.
    "Sigh, I want to write like that," the mousy little girl bemoaned.

    "Patience Little One, your work is coming along nicely. It takes time and much effort to master the Word Craft."

    "I know, Wise One, but for days I've been stuck on a single passage and I'm struggling more than usual."

    "Yes, Child, I've seen the suffering on your face and you staring at the screen with few words. Write the piece with all its flaws, walk in the woods, drink some ale, and come back to it. I believe the magic will return to your editing charms if you do that."

    With that, the mousey little girl took out her keyboard and tried again, writing the chapter in all its hesitant, telling-not-showing flawed glory. She looked up. The dogs were by the door, no doubt sensing the woods that awaited. How do they do that? She pondered getting up from the chair.
  4. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Take the advice passed on by my Economics professor (offered in the context of public speaking): Be brief, and be gone.

    If you're aware you tend to be windy, you're halfway there. Take your descriptions and edit them down to half their size. Repeat until the quality begins to degrade, then back out the most recent iteration.
  5. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    good advice...

    what you're doing is micro-managing... i call it bibo writing... as in 'breathe in/breathe out'... all it does is bore the reader to the point of tossing your work and looking for something better to read...

    how do you stop yourself?

    the most important thing every would-be writer must have, other than a modicum of talent and good writing skills, is self-discipline... if you don't have any and can't acquire it, you'll never succeed as a writer... guaranteed!
  6. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    Size isn't everything!

    To some extent, the size (length) of a 'description' isn't always the problem. Quality can often be the problem.

    In the above example (an excellent one, in my opinion) of Tell vs Show, the first attempt, the 'telling' one, is very short. And boring.

    The second attempt is more than three times as long, but because it's 'showing', which involves us—the readers—in the creation of its images, it's not boring. It sucks us straight into the scene AND the character in a painless, interesting way.

    So I would say, don't become obsessed with shortening your descriptive passages. Become obsessed with livening them up!
  7. Anthony Martin

    Anthony Martin Active Member

    Apr 18, 2013
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    San Diego
    I recommend Hemingway for learning the powers of concision.
  8. peachalulu

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    May 20, 2012
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    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Sometimes the tendency to go on and on is when a writer is not picking precision words, and
    gets pulled into further explanation. The thingamagig syndrome. Starting with a generalization
    and rippling out to explain it. The less general the concept, words, feelings the more description needed.

    Or sometimes a writer has a hard time choosing what to highlight. It's like going into
    someone's house you could describe it down to suspicious carpet stain or the mummified fly in the corner
    cobweb but what is really important to the story? What really needs to be said? That's where
    highlighting comes in. Keep the important or interesting details things necessary to describing
    character, enhancing plot, or visualization.

    I think the problem with this description is that it's not tied together.
    1st sentence doesn't seem linked to anything and feels fragmented, no verb - It had a long tail made of intestines? or A long tail made of intestines thrashed?

    2nd sentence - the action isn't clear. Two claws made of ribcage ripped through the chest? or is someone ripping open the chest open to discover the two claws made of ribcage?

    3rd sentence - feels disconnected. Whose lower jaw is this? and a sentence or occurance seems missing. A demonical face appeared with two massive fangs glinting on it's lower jaw.

    To make this description work you need to keep everything linked. Every sentence felt adrift, fragmented. They lost sight of their subject. Also check the order of action. A tail appears first, than claws, than a jaw - it seems a little backwards making things confusing.

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