[Discussion on description] Do's and don'ts - Personal feedback

Why hello there fellow wielders of the creativity pen (or usually keyboard).

So, I’m an aspiring writer, I plan to go ‘pro’ in the future, and I’ve been studying the wondrous world of creative writing (theory and all) for about five years now.

I have a small group of beta readers (mainly acquaintances who have some connection to the literary world, or are simply avid readers), and the feedback I usually get from them sounds like this:

Dialogue is delicious, the narrative aspect is on point, yet the descriptions are toooooo loooooong!

Now, I’ve toned this down in the past few months, and I somewhat understood the mechanics behind description, but still, I feel lost when it comes to dosing my description. I can interlace dialgoue, narrative, and description pretty well, but when description pops up, apparently I get lost in useless details, and this is because I consider them useful.

I just want to hear your opinions on description as well, regarding the dosing, the length, the amount of details, what should be done and what not…

All that jazz.

Hope to hear from you, and may the gods of immagination flood your mind with the essence of creativity!

Love, live
A Cyberpunk/SF/Fantasy
Culture.
Viktor Rain

First: feedback is always “just an opinion”, which means you should take it serious but sometimes you don’t change your work because one beta-reader thinks negative about it. Long descriptions can have an important function, for instance in fantasy (like Lord of the Rings) and some SF stories it’s a necessity and readers love the genre for it.

There are no rules about how long a description should be, what should be in it and what not or how it should be done. There are some tips, though.

A writing buddy started a mystery with the murder scene. There were 10 people running around there, most of them police officers in various functions, and he described shirt, shoes and shampoo of every one of them: wrong, because I as a reader think that a character is more important when there’s a longer description about her, so avoid description of side-kicks.

The same can be said about environment. In a horror story, a reader should “get in the mood for fear”, so when the zombie isn’t there yet (he pops out of the closet when you least expect it), you can sow the seeds of tension with a good (and rather long) description. Describe the elements that are important and do it in an original way, not just “it was a dark night” (somehow, nights are often dark) but more like “the street lights reflected in the wet street”, indicating recent rain and darkness-probably-night or “the rain hadn’t washed away the stink of rotten flesh”, referring to the senses and to an environment where something ugly happened.

The last tip is: keep the story interesting. We’re not reading the phone book of Amsterdam (a list of names of too many people), we’re not browsing the catalogue of Fancy Fashion (a detailed view of what every person wears, including the colour of her hair, her lipstick, her earrings and her shoe laces), we’re not looking at a documentary of Discovery Channel about the architecture and used materials in the street. We picked the book because we expected a story, action, fascinating characters who do fascinating things, and we need to know a few details about those things, those characters and the place where they live, but the action, the plot, the dialogue, the things that happen, that’s why we want to read the story.

Imagine you’re watching Liverpool vs Chelsea and the voice-over starts telling about the village where player A comes from or the weather or the colour of his shoes. You would turn off the sound. That’s what description does sometimes. That’s what your beta-readers tried to tell you.

Did this help?

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Like you said, they’re useless details, so treat them as such. If you want to mention some details in your description, that’s fine, but choose those details that contribute to the story. Nobody’s interested in what color the bed covers are, so to speak. They’re only interested in the bed standing there.

Long descriptions may be functional in some genres (fantasy), but that doesn’t mean that everybody likes them. Of course, it’s your story and the story has to appeal to you in the first place, but if you want to attract more readers, the descriptions should probably be a bit shorter.

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Details can always be tricky because it all depends on what is needed in the scene. The rule of thumb that I’ve learned is…

  1. Focus on the important things.

Sometimes, those who are over-writers (like myself), tend to write irrelevant details. This is things like the smallest details in the room or overly describing clothes or whatnot. What happens when you do this is it drags the story on and bored the reader. Why? Because there isn’t much action going on.

Instead, you want to focus on writing the relevant details so you could move the story forward.

  1. Write descriptions with an action.

Another problem I’ve faced is writing long details one right after the other. It slows the story down and bores readers. Most importantly, it becomes too much to remember because it’s all in one massive section and overwhelms your readers.

Instead, you want to write the details once an action takes place. For example, when your character walks through a forest, they’re not going to see the entire forest and field laid out in front of them. Instead, write little details as they walk. Take a break for something to happen, then go ahead with details and your actions. In other words, find a rhythm that could help space out the details.

  1. Could they belong elsewhere?

The next thing to think about is if your details could belong in another chapter. Sometimes, people tend to focus a bunch of details in a single scene, but you can place them anywhere else in the book if you looked for it, in most cases. So consider if it could go somewhere else other than that one place.

  1. Make shorter paragraphs and sentences.

If you’re writing long paragraphs (at least six or so sentences each), consider cutting down on it. You don’t have to delete anything, just move things around. If you make shorter sentences and paragraphs, it’ll feel like the story is moving at a faster pace. This is different with long paragraphs and sentences, where it overwhelms the reader and feels too long and dragged out.

  1. Show more, tell less.

If you find yourself going through info dumps and areas that are full of telling, you may want to cut those out and try to show more. Telling and info dumping can lead to boredom and slower paced chapters.

Overall, you’re not going to please everyone. There’s going to be people who don’t like long descriptions and want to cut to the chase. I’ve ran into them before, as well.

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Thanks a lot.
It actually did. I think I kinda get lost in the details of the world itself and tend to over-describe certain objects or characters.
The story part is on spot, but in certain areas, I tend to add the Fancy Fashion Catalogue :laughing:
Thanks :smiley:

Yup, it’s fantasy.
Still, I personally enjoy long descriptions in books, but I realize I’m one of the few, and I guess that’s where the problem lies. I want to balance my personal preference and tendency to description with the desires of potential readers.

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Thanks a lot!

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