"When you are describing
Hello all! Life is excruciatingly busy right now: courting four graduate schools, ordering caps and gowns, writing theses and homework and everything under the sun. The topic for this February's Round Robin is:
Description. What is your saturation point? What is not enough? How do you decide what to include and when to hold back to allow the reader to fill in the blanks? Do you ever skim description when reading a book? If so, what description are you most likely to skip? (Thank Marci Baun for this idea!)
I can actually handle quite a bit of description; if you ever somehow got your hands on my earliest novel drafts, you would see why. Adjectives like no tomorrow. In my defense, I was twelve. Still, I like description--granted that it's pertinent to the scene at hand. When I read The Fellowship of the Ring a few months ago, I was somewhat confused as to why I knew the customs, songs, and ancient lore of all these places, but I didn't have a clear idea of what the main characters looked like. I even thought Boromir was a dwarf up until the last chapter, which meant I'd started skimming along the way.
I really don't like when authors fail to explain what they're characters look like. If I'm imagining a generic person with blurry facial features by mid-story, then something is wrong. Do they crinkle their nose when they smile? Are they so tall that they automatically hunch their shoulders around people or doorways? Is their nose as straight as a letter opener, or bulbous like someone attached a turnip to their face? These are the questions I need answered so I know whom I am following around in the plot.
However, sometimes it's sometimes good to be a little vague, to keep the slate blank. I'm not saying I like to be given every detail available; a beautiful thing I noticed when I started reading The Scarlet Pimpernel series by Baroness Orczy was that you knew from the surrounding information that the main character was in disguise in the scene, but there was no outright evidence to support your claim. You just had to infer and guess as you read along, and it was loads of fun trying to guess which random farmer, revolutionary, or ranking officer was actually an Englishman hellbent on rescuing people.
For my own writings, I like to treat the reader like their time is valuable. If info is cute or silly but not necessary, it usually gets cut. I will openly and clearly describe how someone looks and let their action lead to further character development; they'll have their own quirks and responses and ways of speech. If a building is often visited or crucial to the plot, I might spend half a page describing just why it's so special. There is a bank in Monet Evanesce where the main character, a Swiss forger, keeps his money and valuables:
Boschart & Cie was a discreet member of the Association of Private Swiss Bankers and had outlying branches in Singapore, Morocco, Peru, London, and Paris. Apollo trod up to the imposing glass building and shielded his eyes from the refracting sun—no good for surveillance stakeouts. The glass panels weren’t actually glass, they were a plastic that refused to crack under pressure or heat and proved oddly slippery in case anyone had any ideas about climbing. Every room except for the restrooms had cameras. Concealed cameras. The bathrooms boasted an attendant who doubled as a member of some military defense organization. The employees never had the same schedule two days in a row and nobody actually knew the Boschart family, what they looked like or how many of them there were. Apollo had met three different men and even one woman claiming to be Mr. Boschart, so now he just walked through the door into an icy lobby mapped out with cube tables and armchairs. A few chairs sat occupied; Apollo always cringed and imagined people recognizing him. They were in a criminal’s bank so they probably wouldn’t do anything, but it was still a fear, a slick touch like a knife on his skin, deciding whether to bite into him or not.
Is all of that 100% crucial to the plot? Not necessarily, but the bank is, and from this description (hopefully) the reader understands that this is no average M&T. This is not a bank for normal people, nor is it to be trifled with.
How do you feel about description? Love it? Prefer it cut short? Follow the trail of authors below to see how they handle it:
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/description
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com