Saturday, November 1, 2014

November 2014 - Don't go overboard and drown in descriptions

"To live through a story . . . a reader must capture it with his own senses."
– Dwight Swain

For a reader to be anchored in a time and place, to feel the urgency and drama or the mood of any scene, means writing with vividness and economy. It means showing, not telling. But how much description is too much? How much telling is too much?

There are no easy answers.

On the minimalist side, the average sentence is considered twenty words.  One "rule" says no more than three sentences (that's twenty to sixty words) in any given spot. At the other extreme is someone who uses such a unique, narrative voice and such evocative language that a reader would happily listen to a detailed description of an ocean and become lost in the feel of the waves coming onshore, the smell of salt air, and the squawk of gulls.

There is also Point of View and Viewpoint to consider. The omniscient narrator (God or The-Fly-On-The-Wall) tends to tell all and describe all. On the other hand, first person and the deepest third person narratives filter everything through the character's highly opinionated voice, which means the character is not going to stop and describe a lot of things in detail. The character can't take that kind of time because the character is on a mission or quest to achieve a story or scene goal, or solve a problem.

And, of course, there are thousands of blended points of view with varying degrees of showing and telling. One size does not fit all.

But there is a "tipping point." At some point, the description will either slow the story to a crawl or stop the action. When that happens, the reader skims to get to "the good stuff" and that means action or dialogue.

My advice is— do not stop the initial draft process to edit or limit descriptions. Write what you must. Once that draft is done, make one pass through the work looking for wall-to-wall words, that is, any page with four or fewer paragraphs. When you find a page like that, use a highlighter and highlight every word of description. That way you "see" the bulk of words. Next is to cut adjectives and adverbs or replace them with one, vivid, image-producing noun or verb. Lastly, determine if there is a way to say the same thing better, and with more economy of words, but which doesn't violate the point-of-view or viewpoint.

Revision is a process. Describing to show more with less wording, is a matter of using good writing craft devices and techniques.

Craft can be learned. And craft enhances talent!

 ***THIS BLOG IS UPDATED THE FIRST OF EACH MONTH --- December 2014 - Don't underutilize the dictionary and thesaurus

***Christmas Gift Idea for yourself or a fellow writer:
"Terrific Titles--an all-inclusive guide to creating story titles"

*** Christmas Gift Ideas for Readers (all available at and other book outlets):

ADRADA TO ZOOL an anthology of short stories

JEWELS OF THE SKY, a futuristic (sci-fi) adventure
KARMA AND MAYHEM, a paranormal fantasy romance

***Connect with Catherine at her home website HERE
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