Description

Recco, Giuseppe - Still-life with the Five Sen...
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I love descriptive scenes.  They set time and place, character appearance, their favorite kind of clothes, their homes and their other possessions.  Believe me, this stuff is important. I’ve read books light on description, and it’s like groping my way through fog to get an idea where the scenes take place, and when.

Description is anything that tells the reader what characters experience through the five physical senses. When it’s necessary to give the reader some mental breathing space, say after an intense action scene, describing the aftermath or what surrounds the characters in a lull is like providing oxygen before the readers submerge themselves in the next fast-moving sequence. Still, even I will admit that too much description becomes downright annoying.

When a writer stops and provides every detail (as I tend to do in my first drafts), they sloooooow their pace to a crawl.  The mind lingers over descriptive passages in order to process what the characters see, hear and feel.  When a reader wants to move on to the next action sequence, they often (consciously or not) skip over long descriptive passages to get to the exciting bits.  Description is like the chocolate swirls in fudge ripple ice cream: ideally it should appear evenly throughout a book, but not in big gooey globs.

Good description layers all five senses throughout the book, without sounding like “Miss Girlygirl eyed the petit four, admiring its pick icing.  She picked it up, inhaling chocolate and fondant icing.  When she bit into it, hearing the delicate crunch of its layers, the coffee flavoring coursed over her taste buds.”  That chunk was heavy-handed and awkward.  Description is the art of adding details to a scene without overpowering it.

What about you? Do you read every word of a description or do you tend to skip over them?

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