I'll be honest, though. I don't like too much description. I've been in bootcamp critique groups where some of the input I receive is they want more description. And it makes me feel . . . conflicted. Yes, there needs to be adequate description but since I tend to skip too much description in books, I don't want to write stuff people like me are going to skip.
As author Elmore Leonard said: I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
So I was particularly interested in the LTUE panel on Writing Fantastic Description (and Knowing Where to Put It) with Amber Argyle, Michelle Davidson Argyle, Frank L. Cole, Chad Morris, Peter Orullian, and Andrea Pearson.
Following are some of the snippets I jotted down during the class:
- With epic fantasy, the world is important and must be described in detail - I was always amazed at the way Robert Jordan could describe clothing. In some books, the kind of detail he put into would be overdoing it, but he wrote epic fantasy and the clothing in many ways was part of his world building by how it represented the various cultures.
- Don't just describe the physical traits of characters--make what you describe say something about the character as well
- Be aware the attention span of the target audience--middle grade doesn't require as much detail as genres for older readers
- The words you use should set the tone - what your characters see when they enter a room or check out people says a lot about your characters. So don't just mention that the sofa was green unless the sofa being green means something to the character.
- Reveal information gradually so the reader has 'aha' moments along with the character
- Every word has a job--don't use words that aren't doing something for the story
- Using description tidbits in dialogue lets those words do double duty
- Metaphor and simile can be a great ways to describe
- Let your content mirror the action
- When you're writing a sentence you don't want to bury what you're describing, so list what you're describing at the end - oh, my heck. Some years ago I was reading a book aloud to my husband and one of our sons. It was Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Both hubby and son are great audio learners, but we were all getting lost in the excessive description The point of the paragraphs was being lost. Without telling them, I started reading only the first and last sentences of each paragraph. After a few paragraphs, hubby and son looked at each other and said, "Wow. Why is it suddenly making sense?"
- Some kinds of description are easier done in third person than first
During the iWriteNetwork Winter Workshop last month, I taught a class on writing a one-page synopsis. As I was reviewing my notes from the LTUE class, I realized that writing a short synopsis could be an excellent exercise is making sure that you don't have any lazy words. You have to give each one serious consideration to make sure it's doing that job you need it to do.
My oldest son's amazing at it--in seventh grade he knocked my socks off with his ability to paint a picture with words. I have no idea where that gift came from.
How about you? Is writing description your friend? Or are you more like me?