I love doing critiques. Sometimes I think I should have been an editor or professional proofreader.
The one issue that bothers me more than any other when I do critiques, is description overloads, dumps, whatever you want to call them. If you are reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I realize some description and imagery are necessary to help the reader visualize the story, but some people provide page after page of it.
I’m a skipper/skimmer. I own up to it and have stated it as fact in many of my blogs. I don’t want to be, and I don’t like the idea of skimming through pages of writing to get to the good stuff. As a matter of fact, if I pick up a book or go to someone’s writing posted for critique and all I see is paragraph after paragraph of description, I’m not touching it.
Jerry Jenkins says it’s a sin to ask a paragraph of description to stand on its own. Your readers eyes glaze over and then they are gone. He’s written nearly 190 books, including the best selling Left Behind series, so I listen when he speaks.
So, what’s the solution? It’s your job to set the scene, but you want to make sure your readers aren’t skimming the descriptions, or worse, skipping them altogether.
You have to make the description part of the action:
Randall wanted only David to know his scheme, so he pulled him away from the others and onto the deck where he had to raise his voice over the pounding waves. He hunched his shoulders against the whipping wind and wished he’d thought to grab a jacket, knowing they wouldn’t be able to stand it out there for long.
In this example we know the setting because it was incorporated into the action. The author did not take a paragraph to discuss the severity of the storm that was causing massive waves and packing winds at 20 miles an hour. While Randall is whispering his nefarious plan, your reader is skipping nothing.
I wish I could say I’ve mastered this skill, but I have not. It is a technique I continue to work on. A place I aspire to be one day.