Have you ever read a book where you find yourself skimming or even completely skipping over paragraphs because there is just too much description? I don’t know if this is a personal thing for me or if other people have the same problem. When I first started writing my book, I kept that in mind. But I think I went to the extreme and didn’t describe anything (well, almost anything). After a few readers pointed this out, I realized I needed to go back and change quite a bit. So I did. However, I still didn’t end up with a book full of beautiful imagery and descriptions of scenes that took your breath away. Why write what I often find boring? Besides, my book always leaned commercial, not literary.
As I read through the finished manuscript, I hoped it was a good balance between too much and too little. But I was still wondering. And then the other day I was reading a post by Kristin Cashore (Graceling and Fire — which if you haven’t read, you really should). In the post, she was responding to a question on how she writes particular scenes. The thing that stood out to me was this: “Don’t feel the need to over-describe; resist the urge to explain.”
Readers are smart, they can fill in the gaps. And they usually fill in those gaps exactly how they want to, and in ways they like. Haven’t you ever talked to someone about a book you’ve both read and you each visualize a scene differently? Is that because the author didn’t describe it well? Not usually. People just fill in the gaps. Chances are that even if each reader pictured things differently, they both got the feeling of the scene the same (at least if it was written well). And isn’t that the most important?
Now, I’m not saying to cut all description out of books. You need to have feeling, emotion, characters who grow and change. And you need to have a concept of place, setting, etc. I’ve resolved this myself with having one or two unique things in every setting that stand out. Maybe it’s a smell. Maybe it’s one particular feature of the landscape. Maybe it’s what people are doing around the mc. But, at least to me, that gives structure to the scene without describing every detail.
When my beta readers get back to me, I’ll be interested to see what they have to say about this topic. Maybe I’ll find myself going back and adding more description. Who knows?
What do you think?