Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Invisible people in an empty white room

I've sort of finished the first draft of my current WiP. I say sort of because it's about half the length it needs to be. This surprised me as I'm normally an over-writer, but I'm not worried. Yet. Ask me again in a couple of weeks and it might be a different story but there's no sense fretting until I have to, right?

What struck me though as I read through the story yesterday was the distinct lack of description. One character's hair colour was mentioned, and a door was stated as being made of 'varnished wood'. That's it. It's not such a big deal of course, after all it's not like I don't have any spare words to use to add some in, but what's making me think about it so much is the fact that I don't actually want to put any in. I can't decide if this makes me a bad writer, or just someone who hates wading through pages and pages of description so much that I've deliberately gone the other way and favoured the 'minimalist' approach. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. I may not be a very good writer (it depends what day you ask me as to what answer you'd get to that question) but the fact is I've noticed it and I will, of course, layer in some description; and it's not like I'd ever show an editor this scruffy, raw first draft so it's not really a major problem.

But how much description is too much? Are you a reader who likes to be told exactly what a character, a house, a street looks like so you can see what the author saw when s/he wrote the novel? Or do you like to decide for yourself what people and places look like? And when is the right time to describe your main character? Too early and you could lose a reader who wants to jump straight into the action but too late and you risk annoying the person who's already formed a mental picture of the character – and it doesn't match anything you wrote.

I suspect that getting the balance of description right is just one of the things that separates a good/okay writer from a great one. Now, if you'll excuse me I've got to go and describe all my characters in 10,000 words or more!


  1. Ive always had a problem with overly descriptive writers. I find that when every single detail is put down for me in black and white, that I find it a bit of a turn off. My imagination works just fine, I don't need to know EVERYTHING. That and I find it rather dull to read and will normally skim over descriptions if they get to long winded.

    That being said I often fear that I am an over describer. I fear I go into too much detail on somethings while neglecting details in others. I am constantly being told 'Yea we know who we are reading and what they are doing but have absolutely no clue as to where they are other than inside.'

    Its a balance that I always struggle with, and am afraid I always will.

  2. Beylit - Welcome to you. Sorry I missed this comment. I forgot that those on older posts are moderated.

    I agree with you about too much description. The worst is when you skim pages of the stuff, and then find out later there was something important buried in the middle of it!

    It might be something we struggle with, but at least we know that and work on it :-)


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