Warning: This post has examples of very poor writing. Please resist the urge to yawn.
Her eyes followed the lengthy, slender, brown, deer like legs all the way up to where they married the round thin flat slab. They then turned their focus to the object upon the plank. An iridescent, shimmering, translucent, hour glass shaped object, held some crystal clear liquid. An elongated, emerald shoot, pierced the liquid, upon its top end sat a crimson section. This section had several layers of membrane like rounded pieces that folded upon each other, much in the same manner, as my mother’s old, mesh, hinged, kitchen strainer did as a child. The pungently sweet odour rose up through her nostrils. In the air around her, it sounded as if a tiny saw was fluttering through the room. A round, fat, furry, noir and ochre body, touched down like a jet flown by a very experience pilot, on its chosen runway.
She looked at the table legs. She looked at the table top. She looked at the vase. The vase had water in it. There was a rose in the water. She could smell the rose. She heard a bee. The bee landed on the rose.
Yeah, I know, both examples are terrible. The first one is so filled with descriptive words it somehow loses its meaning and the second is just plain boring. Could you imagine reading an entire novel written in either style?
Currently, I am working my way through one of my novels which I had believe to be completed. This process involves restructuring, editing and rewriting where needed. I am trying to make it so it is a lot less of the tell me style and a whole lot more of show me style of writing. This is part of the reason I have been so absent from the blogs lately.
This morning I got to thinking about the use of descriptive language in novels. This is where I make a confession and I know some of you may disapprove of it. I don’t like to be given a huge amount of description when I am reading a novel, in fact most of the time I skim or even skip right over it and move on to the next section. So this is where I am struggling a bit with my own novel. I am at the stage where I am wondering how much imagery is too much and how much is not enough?
My current manuscript is not quite as bad as example 2 and it will never be as flowery as example 1. Instead of going to the extremes, I am trying to strike a good balance. I am sure this is what most writers strive to do. So how do we do that? I do not know of any magical formula for striking the balance. I have even scoured the internet and couldn’t find anything there either.
Feeling a bit at a loss, I decided to look at the topic from the perspective of a reader instead of a writer. I asked myself the following:
When reading what do I tend to skip over?
- Descriptive writing in fast pace sections. Pace is important and if things should be moving quickly, I find adding too much description to these sections slows things down and then I tend to skip over parts of them. Fast pace sections should be choppy.
- Obvious things described to excess for no reason. I know the sky is blue on a sunny day. I do not need a big description of the blue sky unless something unusual is happening in that sky. Otherwise just say the sky was blue.
- Internal dialogue that goes on for ages describing things in detail but does not move the story forward.
- I like dialogue and sometimes when reading a section where there is quite a bit of it and the author then puts in some descriptive narrative to try and break it up, I skip the narrative.
- Backstory in the form of an information dump that could be better written in another way.
- Sometimes if there are more than one storyline in the book and I am only interested in one I will skip or skim the others.
Now that I have compiled my list, perhaps I need to go through my novel and make sure I am not perpetuating any of these things skippable offences myself. Hopefully then I will have somehow struck my balance.