Description Overloads/I Get It Already!

untitledI 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.

-Jan R

Description Overloads/I Get It Already!

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

untitledI ran into this question while doing some research this past week, and it made me stop and think. Is my prose to beautiful? In my case, I would say no. I never grasped that concept. I have to admit I’ve tried.

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words.” This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.

George Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.”

He explained: “When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”

This overuse of description can also bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning.

Jerry Jenkins calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginners work he was editing.

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you are like me, you had to read it several times. That’s written-ese.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

Description is Icing on the Cake

ccf_lindasfudgecakeI’m not very good at writing description and have a tendency to avoid it. This is reflected in critiques that I receive on my work. ‘You need to help me picture the setting in my mind. Where is your MC? It’s like looking at a blank canvas. There’s nothing there’.

You may be like me or you may be on the opposite side of the spectrum. I have critiqued some beautifully ridiculous descriptives. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. Imagine your reader picking up a book at the bookstore and reading page after page of description on the gowns at a regency ball or the inner hull of a slave ship. They, like me, would probably put it down immediately.

Think of bad description as that one teacher you had in high school who went on and on putting the class to sleep. Good description is more like the teacher that got everybody involved in the action. She provided the information we needed but didn’t bog us down with a lot of fluff.

Avoid Huge Lumps of Description

In the past, Authors could get away with this but in today’s society, unless a reader was actively seeking out writers known for lyrical descriptive passages, they wouldn’t put up with it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few who get away with it, but it’s only because they are really good, and in all reality, many of their fans are skimming those passages.

Make Description an Active Part of Your Story

You must find a way to use description in combination with action . Descriptions that come out of nowhere and do nothing but describe, are known as ‘narrative lumps’. A great example I read during this research is as follows:

Zara grabbed her mug and gulped it down, shivering when a few drops of the ale trickled under her leather top. I didn’t have to say….The ale was cold or She wore a leather top. That information was provided in the action sequence.

Describe what your Characters Would Notice

Remember you are seeing the world through the eyes of your main character. If that character works and goes to the same office everyday, they aren’t going to stare at the craftsmanship and detail of the bookshelf housing a  wall of books in the office library. They see it everyday, but they are going to notice if a substantial number of volumes were removed. They aren’t going to look around their office and go on and on about the lavishly decorated room-unless they just had it up fitted. They will notice  a vase of red roses sitting on their desk.

Words, Words, Words

Use Strong, active, concrete words. The stronger the writing the better the description. Remember, nouns and verbs are your friends. Adjectives and adverbs can be your friends, depending on how you use them.

Avoid adjectivitis. I wish I could claim this word, but again I read it during my research. Adjectivitis is when you use to many adjectives to describe something. The rule of thumb is no more than two.

And you also want to limit your trips to the thesaurus. I know what it’s like to try to come up with different words, to avoid overuse. But when I have to stop reading a prose to look up the word the author has written, or I stumble over a  rarely used word, chances are, that author took one to many trips to the thesaurus.

Use all the senses

Most writers concentrate on sight and sound but you can really bring a scene to life by incorporating the other senses. Don’t forget about touch, smell and taste.

Fit the Description to the Type of Story

Fast paced action novels will have less descriptive as you are trying to get your main character from point A to point B in a hurry. Slower paced novels may take the opportunity to smell the roses, but be mindful of how long they are smelling them.

Avoid Excessive Name-dropping

It’s all right to use brand names in your story. But there are a few basic rules: Get the name right and do not portray the product in a disparaging light. Do not say your main character got food poisoning from the Golden Corral. (Go to the Publishing Law Center website for more information)

You don’t want to go overboard with brand names, but it is a  way to provide your reader with a good concrete description. When you say Chevy Silverado-people know instantly and can picture it in their minds.

Don’t Let Description Hang You Up During a First Draft

Remember you can always go back and add it later. When I started writing my novel, I had a great plot idea and my characters sketched out in my head. I put pencil to paper and wrote until completion.

As a matter of fact, that is were I am, and why I am writing this article. I have completed my first draft and am now beginning the process of icing my cake.

I hope this review on description helps you as much as it helped me.

-Jan R

Description is Icing on the Cake