1. DayOwl
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    DayOwl New Member

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    How to know when you've said enough

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by DayOwl, Feb 19, 2013.

    Recently, I gave some of my writing (a scene) to a few friends to share their thoughts on. One gave me the "that's interesting, it's pretty good" response. Another gave me general feedback unrelated to what I had given him, with the exception of telling me I should add a widely used cliche. The third (the one that reads least) gave me some actual feedback. He had told me that he felt either the description of the room should either be all at the beginning in one whole section or spread out fairly sparingly throughout. Personally, I had felt that it had decent pacing, but am at a loss how to edit. I'd like to give a clear view of the room (through the protagonist's eyes) without describing every nook and cranny or having a reader lose interest. The room in question is a drab hospital room. It holds some significance because how my protagonist sees it reflects on her personality. But it could be any character or any place. Does anyone have advice on knowing when your descriptions are not enough or too much?
     
  2. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    maybe you should post it for review and give people a chance to see what's enough or too much...
     
  3. DayOwl
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    DayOwl New Member

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    As of yet, I'm not able to post my work for review.
     
  4. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    How long is string?
     
  5. DayOwl
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    DayOwl New Member

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    The example i mentioned has 3 short sentences of description, some character-situation awareness (about a paragraph,) and then some more light description as seen though her eyes as she interacts with her environment. I feel it needs more, and it's just a draft thus far but my critique-er has me second-guessing my writing of setting description in general.
     
  6. jwideman
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    jwideman Senior Member

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    I tend to be sparse on description. I give enough detail for the reader to know the room isn't bare white walls and no furniture, but I don't go into much more unless it's relevant for some reason. I had a character who had her bedroom decorated with Smurfs. It made a statement about her personality but I didn't describe each individual Smurfy thing because none of it mattered to the story. In another example, I wrote a detailed description of the entrance to an apartment building. It wasn't important to the story, but I wanted to have a calm moment before the action about to occur. I ended up cutting the description and rewriting the scene so that the action escalated sooner.
    The best advice I can give is to write as much description as you feel it needs and trust your gut. If you feel it needs more, it probably does. One critique, even from a writer, isn't enough to make you second guess yourself.
     
  7. BitPoet
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    BitPoet Member

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    Three critiques is not really much, so don't beat yourself into a pulp. Things might not be as bad as they sound :)

    That said, I often find that it is not the level of detail that is missing but rather some anchor details which tickle the correct corners of the readers' brains. Check the order in which you mention things, they must match the order in which you yourself would recognize your surroundings if you were in your character's (or an observer's) place. Jumping around minces the description, however good it might otherwise be. Then make sure that you aren't too technical. Try to avoid giving exact measurements and placements of items, and try not to enumerate. Create images that are powerful and carry the tone of the scene, even if you risk a bit of cliché - the only thing worse than cliché is trying to be original and failing. Scratches and rubber tracks on the linoleum floor, faded drapes with a yellowish tinge, stains the wall-high windows or a not-so-white, empty wall that still carries the outline of a cross are examples of often re-used cliché that hardly fail to do their duty.

    If you've reworked the scene with that in mind and still get the feedback that the description is lacking, it could be that it is not the description that is to fault but rather the pace of the scene, jwideman's suggestion to cut description from the beginning and get into the action is spot on there. Try to start with more action and readers will be so focused on it that their mind makes up a lot of detail on its own. That was one of the most valuable writing exercises I've done, by the way, writing a nearly identical scene where a young man finds his dead girlfriend in a junk yard. I did it once in a static way, were he enters, looks around and finally sees her body a bit away on the roof of a car. Then I wrote the same scene with him running around, looking into old cars and climbing over piles of junk metal. The images in the latter of the two appeared quite vivid in comparison, even though it didn't have more detail.
     
  8. creative_nothings
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    creative_nothings Member

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    My only suggestion here is what BitPoet said and is something I do quite frequently (perhaps too frequently). Write the same scene over again, but in a different way and with a different level of description (whether more or less, or action first description later or vice versa, etc...), then see which you like better. Best of luck!
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Three sentences seem excessive for what you describe as a drab hospital room, unless they're extremely short sentences. I'd be curious to see an example, when you can post for review.
     
  10. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Regarding the amount of description, in the long run how much or how little you choose to write is part of what is your style of writing. There are no absolute rules about what is too much or too little. That said, in general it's not a good idea to write in loads of description which is irrelevant to the story, unless you're aiming at creating a certain type of atmospheric style of writing. If story is your master then the argument is stick to the story and less is more.

    Regarding critiques, be very careful to assess the critic. Almost everyone to some degree criticizes the media they consume based on their opinions. Some like almost no description and will tell you so in no uncertain terms, while others love it and want more, though may be less inclined to actually say so. At the end of the day you need to find out what you like writing, what audience there is for it, and then make sure you write consistently for that audience and not try to write to please everyone (which is impossible).
     
  11. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    Economy of words is always the goal, especially in description, but to address your question about whether the description should come right away, or be marbled throughout the narrative.

    There are pros and cons to both.

    If you start off with description, it becomes a sign post for the reader, a reference point, an image that anchors them to the narrative, if done well, mind you. But it can also halt the initial flow of the story, could not be congruent with the voice, or the POV--this being the most important factor, considering if it's a heavy third person POV, you're only going to take a step back and describe something when your character would actually take the time to view and absorb his surroundings in such a way.

    If you marble it in throughout, you have to make sure each tiny detail you do give, wherever, is specific enough for the moment, enough to satiate the reader, while you're also not waiting too long. If you wait too long, you run the risk of the reader's imagination doing its job, and by the time that next detail comes, they've already formed an image, and it may conflict with the picture your trying to paint them.

    So, having balance, being aware of POV, and pacing your narrative well are three things to keep in mind here for sure.
     
  12. DayOwl
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    DayOwl New Member

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    I appreciate everyone's insight, it makes sense that how it's done should be dependent on the flow of the scene, and I will see if re-working the order of things through my protagonist's eyes makes the right kind of difference. I will be happy to post some of my work when I am able, as I'm open to constructive criticism.
     
  13. IzzGidget
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    IzzGidget New Member

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    Another way you can look at it is how your character is feeling when they enter this room. For instance, if hospitals really creep them out, they might find the room really small and pressing, and notice lots of tiny details as a way of expressing their anxiety. If they are the patient, they maybe too drugged up to notice much, or maybe it's all they have to look at and so they know how many ceiling tiles there are. If they are visiting someone, especially a loved one, they might be too focused on that person to notice anything at all. Another thing people tend to forget when writing descriptions is that there are four other senses you can use. That's my two-cents.
     
  14. iWant iStrive
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    iWant iStrive Member

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    I usually keep physical descriptions to a minimum. If you simply point out a few key, memorable features in a room then a reader will usually get an image in their head fairly quickly.
     

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