1. Lily
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    Lily Member

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    Struggling with Description

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lily, Nov 28, 2007.

    In my novel, I am having a hard time with description and details. I'm writing my story in 1st person - and maybe that's why. I'm great at dialogue - I could write it for days but with describing the scenery surrounding the characters I struggle. Does anyone have any advice? Should I switch everything to 3rd person? (It's pretty long, almost 200 pages) and I wouldn't really want to do that - only if there's no other way to add more detail. I'm frustrated with my lack of ability in this area, is there any good books on the topic? Thanks to whomever can help.
    ;)
     
  2. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    Could you provide us with an example? Perhaps that would aid us in helping you.

    I've heard of an exercise where you just take a notepad and describe what is around you. Maybe that would help somewhat? Also, remember to use all of the senses, and not limit yourself to sight, sound, and feel.
     
  3. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    The varying degrees of detail vary from writer to writer. There is no set formula for describing a room or a chair. I've read some books that offer little to no description at all. Others are full, and sometimes overwhelmingly full, of desription.

    How much info about the kitchen does a reader really need?

    "The kitchen was a small room. It was empty except for a refrigerator, a stove, and a table with a few chairs. The white tile floors were dirty, and the air smelled of burning food."

    I find that discription perfectly satisfactory. Frankly, I find the descriptions utterly boring and I know I occasionally skip them when I read a book. Long lengthy descriptions are annoying and uneccessary in many cases. How many ways are there to decribe a bed? King sized, bunk, and water are good enough descriptions for me. I prefer the short and simple over:

    "The kitchen was a small room. The refrigerator was old and the dull emtal door was beginning to rust. The stove's top had long benn covered in grease stains, and smelled of burnt meat. A large round table sat in the center of the room. There were four old wooden chairs around the table, sitting on the dirty white tile floors."

    There is nothing really wrong with either description (Except that they were written in about five minutes, may want to spend mroe time on that in a real work). They both get the job done. I would say how much detail you use depends on your style. If your good with dialogue, use alot of dialogue. If your not so good with the details then tone the details down and keep dialogue at the forefront. Keep the descriptions vague, this is sometimes a good thing as the reader can fit the scenery to their imagination more readily. Just give the reader a context with which to think and let their minds do the rest.
     
  4. Lily
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    Lily Member

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    Hmm, thanks both of you - I will take this into consideration.
    An example:
    The smooth marble of the room gave way to rough stone as we moved into a hallway, making out steps quickly and quietly through the dim passage. I could not repress the curiosity mingled with fear now booming in my chest. I held onto Mandan tighter.
    Noticing my hold, he patted my hand gently, “You’ll be fine.”
    “You have no idea what this is about?”
    “Father will tell you, I am forbidden.”
    “Mandan!” I stopped, taking his hands, “If there is anyway you can prepare me for this, please!” I begged. He pouted, his big hazel eyes avoiding mine.
    I go on with dialogue - then she enters another room - then more dialogue. Should I be more descriptive of their surroundings?
     
  5. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    I think that discription is ok. Maybe work on it a bit to make it flow better (Then, I'm not the king of discription either so you probably will want another opinion). In the futre put a space between each new paragraph. It makes the reading easier.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think a good guideline is to provide enough description so the reader notices what the character notices. If the character is sitting in a waiting room, he or she may be so bored as to count the ceiling tiles!

    In your scene, You lead with the description into the action:
    Consider reversing that to put the focus back on the activity:
    If the description is tied to activity, it is less obtrusive.
     
  7. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, seeing as how you're using the first person mechanic, make sure to keep your descriptions based on what he or she might actually care about. If your main character is a little girl, don't dwell on the architecture of an ancient city; if you have some gruesome warrior, don't have him stop to smell roses in the middle of a fierce battle.

    Description is another powerful way of expressing characterization, use it. Another example would be to contrast feelings of perhaps what the weather evokes - one character is sadden by the rain and not being able to go outside, while another loves being able to find the little creatures that come out and the snail slime trails afterwards.
     
  8. SAGMUN
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    Given: Discription as objective travelogue.

    Your excerpt suggest a different approach to discription, subject reaction: The rough stone evokes a previous meeting.

    Interaction with surroundings can move the story foreward

    Example:

    After John opened the rear kitchen door, he smelled something he hadn't smelled in twenty years. He walked over to stove covered with dirty pots except for one that was clean. With a cruddy dish towel he picked-up the cover and saw his favorite dish: Manhatten clam chowder.
     

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