by Anne Marble
Description is something that gets in the way of many authors. Why? Well, because it’s so darn hard to write. And no wonder. If you’re not careful, descriptive sequences can become static, even dull. Writing action and dialogue is so much more fun. On top of that, description incorporates so many elements. It doesn’t just cover describing the setting — it also involves descriptions of the characters’ clothes and appearance, the “props” your characters use, the weather, and so forth.
If you’re not very accomplished at writing description, then sometimes you might want to avoid writing it. But then, you can wind up with stories where people wander vague hallways or buildings, and readers don’t get a sense of time or place from your story. A story without enough description is missing something. People who read a story that’s lacking in description might ask “Where does this take place? Are there buildings around them?” I must admit that often happens when people look at my early drafts.
At the same time, some writers err in the other direction, including too much description. They fall in love with their setting and can’t help tell the readers about it. And tell and tell. This can impede the flow of the narrative. Imagine readers skimming your book in the store. If they see pages and pages describing the castle grounds, or the chic hotel, they will probably put it down and pick up someone else’s book instead.
How bad is bad description? Think of bad description as being like that teacher who droned on and on and put the class to sleep. Good description is more like the teacher who got students involved by using anecdotes and making the class interactive. You don’t want the descriptive passages in your story to put your readers to sleep, do you?