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Friday, July 19, 2013

#6 - Write A Lot Of Description (HOWNTWAN)

This is the sixth article in the semi-comedic series, How Not To Write A Novel (HOWNTWAN). The first article in the series can be found here: What's Your Story About? Keep reading during the next couple months for the rest of the series.

6. Write A Lot Of Description

For many authors, the surest way of ensuring they retain their day job, and never break into the world of writing success, is to write lots and lots of description.
Description is easy to write. It’s so easy, in fact, that you can get completely lost in it, and never actually make the point you were trying to make. Don’t believe me? Well, let me ask you a simple question. When is a chair, not a chair? And the answer. When it’s a chair in someone’s book who’s looking to meet a word count.
To me, a chair may have plump cushions, ornate legs, or be unpadded, or even tall or short. But a chair would never be set in front of me like a tapestry of colors, reds and blues shining out from the sheer silk fabric of its seat. Its legs carved into the shape of swans, each leg ending in an embrace of cygnets.
It’s a frickin chair! I can’t even count the number of times I’ve got so bogged down in a page of description about some house that is never ever visited again in the rest of the novel. Why do some writers have to do this? I just want to know what happens in the story; not read pages of descriptions about bottles and cabbages. Description is cheap. Description is easy. Needless description doesn’t fool me.
There’s an old adage in writing: Show, don’t tell. What this means is to let the reader discover things for themselves, through the telling of the story. Don’t just dump a whole load of facts down in front of them.
Okay, rant over. What’s my point in this article? Quite simply to encourage you to think about what you are trying to convey as you write all this description. Will the reader honestly remember that the chair had sheer silk fabric that shone reds and blues? Unless it’s a special chair that’s central to the whole plot, probably not. Five pages later they will have forgotten everything about the chair. They probably even forgot there was a chair. A book moves forward by its plot and its characters. Both need to be interesting. Some embellishments of description help bridge these things and take the reader through and between scenes.
Let me try and put this another way. A mother asks her eight-year-old son what his day was like at school. She’s interested, but only to the point of experiencing what it was her son did and saw (and therefore learned). If her son starts with what happened at 8:01 and finishes with what happened at 3:29, she would probably be a little worried about her son. It’s the same with a story. Too much detail is a bad thing. Learn to get the balance right so that you hold the reader’s interest over the length of the point you’re trying to make. No more than that. Okay, I understand you’re trying to write 80,000 words. But how about instead thinking of a few more nasty challenges that the hero has to meet?

I’m done. Description has its place in every book. Just don’t get carried away with it, or you’re on a course to keep your day job until you retire of old age.

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