1. MustWrite
    Offline

    MustWrite Member

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2013
    Messages:
    84
    Likes Received:
    29
    Location:
    Northland, New zealand

    When is enough description enough? Blind writer..

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by MustWrite, May 20, 2013.

    How do you, in your own writing, work out if you have given the reader enough information when describing setting?
    My problem is that although I know my scenes/environments/settings really well, I find it hard to tell if I have given the reader enough information.
    I know the details myself so well that I kind of take them for granted, so sometimes I know I don't have enough details to convey all that I feel in the scene.
    Yet, I really don't want to bore the reader or take their attention away from the main characters and story-line. I have read some fantasy [hmm Jordan comes to mind..] that really tells you everything, but I don't want to write like that.
    I guess the obvious is to ask someone to read it and tell me what they got from the scene, but I really don't want to open myself to that scrutiny at this early stage [half way muddling through 1st draft.]
     
  2. The Peanut Monster
    Offline

    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2013
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    New Zealand
    First, hello to a fellow kiwi!

    Second, I think the rule is that less is more. Readers plug alot of gaps with their imagination. I think some things that are critical to the plot/character development etc, can of course be identified in more detail, but there is alot that can (and in my view, should) be left to the reader).

    Imagine, for example, you're driving a stretch of road in the lower South Island. Just you, all alone. You're in the middle of nowhere, a lone car on a long straight strip, dividing the landscape. You wind down the window a little, and the air is cuttingly cool. For a second it takes your breath away: its fresh, to be polite. But what a view, the plains rising up to the foothills there, you look at them a moment, and smell the country air...

    As a reader, maybe you already put in the mountains, the snow, some clouds (but at least how the sky looks in that weather), a few trees here and there, some grass (what colour was it?), the road before you (white or yellow center line?), and even maybe some details of the car... readers are resilient creatures!
     
  3. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    imo, the best rule of thumb to follow is to describe what the readers will need to 'see' in order to be drawn into the scene... and not so much that they don't have to use their imagination to fill in the minor details...
     
  4. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,841
    Likes Received:
    10,017
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    I must happily agree with mammamia. Few authors are able to hold a reader through detailed descriptions of things that have no impact on the story. If you find your eye scanning ahead through the reading of a descriptive passage, I would consider this a red flag that it has crossed the line into too much.
     
  5. rhduke
    Offline

    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2013
    Messages:
    733
    Likes Received:
    158
    Location:
    Canada
    I think this is where a workshop is valuable. Get outside feedback to tell you if they are descriptive enough because it's hard to know yourself when you're too close to the text. Eventually you'll get better at knowing how much description is enough.
     
  6. EmmaWrite
    Offline

    EmmaWrite Member

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2013
    Messages:
    62
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Minnesota
    The important thing to remember with settings is to show rather than tell. Instead of just describing the setting, you could show it to the reader through the actions of your characters. That way you can progress the story and reveal the setting.
     
  7. erebh
    Offline

    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2013
    Messages:
    2,620
    Likes Received:
    465
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I often wonder in books, why oh why is the author telling me this? It has no bearing whatsoever on the story. Is he just filling pages because his story is weak?

    I woould only paint a picture of what the reader really needs to see, nothing else.
     
  8. Thomas Kitchen
    Offline

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2012
    Messages:
    1,258
    Likes Received:
    422
    Location:
    I'm Welsh - and proud!
    My father is a reader who is very "the more the better", but I am in fact the opposite. I like to imagine a lot of the setting, as it helps my imagination both as a reader and a writer. But yes, I agree with Mammamaia: just describe what is necessary for the scene, and if you feel like you want to add more, then add one or two minor details, but no more. In general, less is more when it comes to description, especially in horror...
     
  9. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    For me, I don't like concrete descriptions and much more favour establishing mood for my scenes. So, if the description has successfully conveyed the mood/message I want to convey, then it is enough description. And then of course, if the description is going on for more than 1-2 paragraphs (I mean long ones, like 400+ words) then I must ask myself, "Why is nothing happening yet?" Go back, and ask myself if I've expressed myself succinctly, or perhaps if a different word/object/structure would allow me to chop some details and still retain my message.

    With these things, it's also about stylistic differences. I hate Tolkien's rambling details, and I disliked Stieg Larsson for the same reason - it simply bored me out of my mind. But they're both legendary. Different readers like different things - some like lots of little details because for them, it becomes more real, the writing comes to life then. For me, it deadens the story because my brain simply doesn't work that way - the author can try as hard as she can and still I would not see what she wants me to, nor the detail she has written it to. My brain works much better with metaphors and similes.

    So, I write in a way that I would enjoy reading it, in a way that allows me to visualise the scene. Perhaps you should too :)
     
  10. TerraIncognita
    Offline

    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

    Joined:
    May 28, 2010
    Messages:
    1,339
    Likes Received:
    40
    Location:
    Texas
    I'm going to third this.

    Also what the character notices speaks about them as a person. So that is something else to keep in mine while writing. :)
     
  11. Justin Rocket 2
    Offline

    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2013
    Messages:
    1,034
    Likes Received:
    194
    A few rules of thumb I use

    1.) If you're using an adverb, chances are you can replace it with a better verb

    2.) If you use a noun, you should remember Checkov's gun

    3.) Never use an adjective unless you have to to establish mood.

    4.) Show, don't tell is garbage. There are times when you want to do one or the other. It depends a lot on pacing. A story rocks back and forth between high tension and low tension. The high tension is heavily action oriented. The low tension is heavily information oriented. Telling is often faster than showing and, so, often better to use during high tension (and vice versa for showing and low tension). This is a really weak rule of thumb, don't treat it like gospel truth.

    For example, you can describe wallpaper as "skyblue wallpaper". Does it advance the mood? How about "crumbling, molding wallpaper which stunk of urine", does that advance the mood? Or "wallpaper the color of my aunt Emma's kitchen where I spent my adolescence, skyblue and speckled with gold"? Only you can decide if a description advances the mood or not.
     
  12. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,783
    Likes Received:
    7,298
    Location:
    Scotland
    Yes. I do think this is important to remember. Not all readers like the same things, or dislike the same things. I'm one of the school that usually loves descriptive passages, no matter how long they are, as long as the description is lively and actually helps me to visualise a scene.

    If you can give 'description' through the eyes of a character, giving us his/her emotional reaction to what they are looking at, have us see what they are seeing THE WAY THEY ARE SEEING IT, this takes description out of the realm of info-dumping, and becomes a bona-fide scene. If you learn the trick of doing this, your readers won't even NOTICE that you've just described a scene!

    One little trick that anyone can use, and it's especially helpful for writers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. If you can't describe via a character, then the next best thing is to start a descriptive passage with whatever might already be familiar to a reader. Give them an anchor. THEN hit them with whatever is different in your 'world', what they might not expect. By that time, they will already have one foot in your story, and they'll get dragged all the way into it more easily than if you swamp them with strangeness at the outset.
     
  13. ithestargazer
    Offline

    ithestargazer Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2010
    Messages:
    303
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    the big M, Australia
    I feel that workshopping is a great way to get perspective. As I know my world inside out, it's difficult for me to differentiate what details I've told the audience and what details live in my head. When I read my own work back for the hundredth time, things just seem to meld together.

    Fresh reading by others can help with this. I'm not sure if this works for everyone but I know a few people who I trust to read my work and give me honest, constructive feedback.
     
  14. Ann-Russell
    Offline

    Ann-Russell Member

    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2013
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    8
    I'm a big believer in using description to set the mood of the scene and of the less is more approach. You've probably heard the whole "...everything should be doing more than one thing" idea. I think it helps to keep this in mind when writing description; it should set the scene but also reveal character, for example. Its hard for me sometimes, because I get this AMAZING image in my head and I want so badly for the reader to see it...then I realize that's a huge reason I love reading: being able to use my imagination. Why would I want to take that away from my reader? And actually, when I read something with heavy description I have one of two reactions. I either skip it completely or somehow managed to get confused...

    That being said, getting someone to read it and give some feedback can also be a huge help.
     
  15. SwampDog
    Offline

    SwampDog Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2013
    Messages:
    409
    Likes Received:
    108
    Location:
    Back in Blighty
    .
    There are successful authors that use a lot of descriptive detail, and those that don't. It must be subjective, and the truth probably lies somewhere in between. I tend to prefer the less-is-more approach in reading and writing: in exercising the little grey cells I don't want authors dictating, but rather guiding.

    Joe huddled outside the burned-out shell of the old crofter's cottage. Only the pale cream line on the horizon told him that the thunderstorm would soon end.

    Leaving it like that (all other things being equal), a thousand readers will conjure up a thousand different images. In one stroke, the author has created a thousand different books tailored to each one of his readers. That's the way I prefer to go.
     
  16. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,564
    Likes Received:
    3,561
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    This rule of thumb is not bad even though it's by no means absolute. I never thought about it as a rule, but now that I look at my writing, somehow the adjectives that have found their way to the description are actually there to add to the mood. I'd imagine this comes quite naturally to most writers because the setting is often used to set the mood (e.g. a dark alley or a sunny meadow). However, sky-blue wallpaper can advance the mood just the same. E.g. in me it evokes bright, positive feelings and imagery, I'm thinking of a nursery for a baby boy. Of course, some adjectives are stronger than others. Depends on the context.
     
  17. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    I make absolutely every word count, I will mercilessly cut the paragraphs down until each is a little work of art. I consider flow, pace and relevance to the story. If something I'm writing doesn't have relevance to any of those three, it goes. I find that if I work like that, I'll come up with those descriptions which give enough of the right info without hijacking reader's head and telling them what to think. But it's a skill that takes a while to master.
     

Share This Page