Sunday, August 23, 2009
When Is Enough, Enough
On one of my favorite writing groups, I asked the question: Description—When is enough, enough? I received some very informative answers that varied somewhat from writer to writer. When it comes to using description in a novel, we quickly learn that there is no definitive answer. There were a few things that my fellow writers mentioned that got me to thinking about the following:
(1) Know what your readers want. This is the concept of throwing pearls before the swine, as opposed to allowing someone to leave the table hungry. Who is your audience and what will they want to know before they finish the passage? Above all, make it interesting. If you like to read it, you can’t get enough, but if you don’t, it will be a chore to wade through a lot of excessive verbiage.
(2) Don’t create an information dump for an unsuspecting reader. There is an urge in every writer to just get all of the necessary background information out there where we can get on with the story. Rather than getting the job done in an expedient fashion, our efforts are likely to resemble meal time with a colicky baby.
(3) Let the description match the situation. Short and evocative is better than long and boring, but each passage should give the reader a feeling of been there and done that—or even better—now that I know how it is done, I want to try it too.
(4) Make sure it fits into the passage. We should never, ever, drag the reader out of the story by giving excessive explanations.
Is there a correct way to do all of the above? Probably not, but simply discussing the problem can cause us to steer a truer course. The next paragraph is a short passage I ripped from the first draft of a work in progress. It is raw and unedited, just as my muse whispered it into my ear. What is right about it at this point, and what is wrong? I don’t know the answer to that—for I am still working on it. Too short? Too long? Uninteresting? Pretentious? Dumping too much information? Read through the short passage and tell yourself how you would do it differently. I don’t need to know your conclusions. By the time you are through with it, I will have transformed it into something else—hopefully for the better.
Radford was on the phone when Sanders entered his workshop. It was a long, prefab building that looked as if someone from his television studio had a hand in its design. Three antique cars took up most of the space in the center of the room. The paint gleamed brightly underneath a row of florescent bulbs suspended from a vaulted ceiling. Radford lifted a finger to let him know he would be with him in a minute. He was a short man in his early fifties with a large head, deep set eyes, and loose clothing. He carried himself in a hesitant manner, but in a way that evidently impressed the members of the governing board of his network. He would have looked at home in one of his epic productions, seated on the front of a swaying oxcart with a crossbow across his knees. The workbench behind him was littered with greasy wrenches and an assortment of automotive tools that Sanders could not identify. The only thing that seemed out of place was the silver mounted picture of his family. The frame and the glass had been buffed to the same flawless sheen as the paint on three antique automobiles . . .
Posted by Joe Prentis at 1:55 PM