Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Putting descriptions on a diet.


HA! A blog post that has NOTHING to do with the Ellora's Cave vs. Dear Author lawsuit! Didn't think I could do it, didja? LOL

Actually, yeah, I'm pretty swamped but have been wanting to write this post for a while.

Ever come across a passage in a book that looked something like this:

He walked into the living room. The mauve, floral wallpaper stretched from floor to ceiling and complemented the furniture, carpeting, and other decor. The carpet was a delicate, interwoven vine pattern of various hues of green and gold and fern and avocado, with a dense, short weave of the type commonly manufactured in Karachi in the spring. The velveteen couch was covered in chintz with a peach base and dainty little roses dancing across it, a cute satin fringe emphasizing the woodwork. Dark oak stain on the legs and arms, of the kind made in the custom furniture factories of North Carolina. His uncle had worked in one of those, once, and said that he forever associated the smell of sawdust with bologna sandwiches from his lunchbox. Which was nothing like the ornate crystal decanter set on the end table...

*RIPS KEYBOARD FROM YOUR HAND, SHOOTS IT WITH A SHOTGUN, AND THROWS IT OUT A 37TH FLOOR WINDOW*

For the LOVE of the GODDESS if you have WRITTEN something, anything, that resembles the above?

RIP IT FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

He walked into the living room. From the chintz to the velveteen, it was obvious she lived in another century where current decor had no place.

TA-DA!

Holy farking shitballs, seriously. I got bored just trying to write that sample piece. I get it. I do. Kill your darlings isn't just some bullshit that Stephen King spouts, but it's also not just referring to literally killing off characters. I cannot tell you how many times I've read a book and started skimming because there was SO.

MUCH.

DESCRIPTION.

Seriously, there comes a point, after about the second or third thing, where attention starts to wane. I mean seriously farking wane.

I have a saying: You don't have to say the dog didn't bark unless it's IMPORTANT that the dog didn't bark.

That means okay, yes, you need a little flavor. But if HALF your darn manuscript is DESCRIBING stuff in achingly BORING detail, you're going to lose your readers. I mean it.

This is NOT to say you don't use description. You do. Sparingly, and with purpose. You can use dialog action tags and little things sprinkled here and there to describe a character even better than you can page after page (after FARKING PAGE) of descriptive narrative.

Especially important to remember that if you're writing something like a thriller or a mystery where the pace needs to be faster.

You cannot hold a reader's attention if you bore the crap out of them.

Use it at the beginning of a chapter to set the scene. Or as a transition between a section of dialogue, maybe even interspersed with internal narrative/monologue from whoever the focal character is for that chapter. Or if it's highlighting something important.

Otherwise, cut out the boring shit. See your book as a movie, and remember that if you leave the lens focused too long on one particular place, then you'll bore the viewer (reader). Pick out a couple of key elements that speak directly to what you're trying to do, and use that. Do not drone on and on (and on).

I will smack you with that chintz throw pillow. Don't think I won't.

7 comments:

  1. This. So much! Recently I was judging a contest through my local RWA chapter and read three pages describing the inside of a kitchen. *head desk*

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    1. See, you should get some sort of medal of valor for being a writing contest judge. I couldn't do it. I don't hesitate to DNF books I buy if they bore me or otherwise don't hold my interest. I couldn't do it for free like that.

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    2. I will immediately smother any future impulse to judge writing contests again. I don't know how many times I yelled, "But how does this advance the plot?!" Hubs thought I was nuts.

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  2. This is exactly why I could never get into authors like Steinbeck. Yes, overall, the books are good, but who the heck cares how the Hawaiian islands were formed (unless of course you are studying it). Just get to the bloody story! LOL

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    1. Michael Crichton. I think I skimmed half his books. The only reason I kept reading him is the parts I didn't skim were great! LOL

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  3. I hate overly wordy books. If I'm skimming for dialogue, that's not a good sign. I like to form my own pictures in my head.

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  4. I think it depends on genre. I agree totally regarding the pace of crime/romance/thrillers - and surely, as writers, we need to hone our writing so that, with two lines, we can transport our reader to exactly where they need to be. But I think of Watership Down by Richard Adams, where the lyrical description of the English countryside - all from a rabbit's eye view - is an essential component of the book; the sense of place is tangible.

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