Sunday, May 13, 2007

Describe... or not

Being a visual person, I tend to over-describe in my writing. As my friend AbFab said, 'You see everything like a movie, and you want the reader to see what you see.'
'You're exactly right,' I told her.
She then proceeded with some terrific advice. I'd been told before - mostly by her - but this time it really hit home. She said, 'Don't put in description for description's sake. Only put it in if it moves the story along.'

Of course, I thought. I knew she was right. I had sent her my 2nd chapter, you see. I'd polished it and was quite pleased with myself. It was 22 pages long. In this chapter, the hero and heroine meet again after 18 years apart. The chapter is a chronicle of the evening's events before they reach that moment. I switch between their POVs, in increasingly smaller sections. I thought this would heighten tension, make the reader want to reach the point where they come face to face.

She e-mailed back a lukewarm response, and suggested I cut out what was unnecessary. In her opinion, my 'stringing' out their meeting for so long actually dissipated tension. She said she found herself 'skimming' the writing to get to the vital point. My reply must have sounded so disheartened that she was on the phone in a few minutes. We talked for over two hours, going through what she thought was superfluous.

Now you might be wondering why on earth I would let someone tell me to slash a quarter of my chapter, but it's easy. Her writing is absolutely fabulous, and I trust her judgement. So I got off the phone at about eleven at night, and couldn't go to bed without fixing my ailing chapter. I finished making the changes after midnight and sent them off to her. My chapter reads much better. Paragraphs of description that weren't central to the characters or plot are now a sentence - and some that were completely irrelevant are gone altogether.

As I said, I'd been told this before, but Saturday night, I really GOT IT. Now I tackle my chapter 3 with renewed focus. No more waffling, useless description. As AbFab said, it diffuses tension rather than increasing it. And the big question is: can I stick to it, or will I fall back into my old ways?

4 comments:

Lisa66 said...

Jeepers Scribbly, I hope this friend knows what she's on about!!!

Scribbly said...

Ooh, yeah. She knows. As they say, 'the proof's in the pudding', and in her case, the proof's in her writing. It sings.

Valentina Acava Mmaka said...

Hi Scribbly!
I haven't read your work and as you know I don't usually read nor write romance. So this comment it is just on my experience as a writer and as a creative writing teacher.
In descriptions are very important details.
Often it happens that some descriptions get the reader bored but this usually happens when are not written with much vividness.
Through details the style of a writer can be shaped and emerge.
Do you remember Flaubert's "Madame Bovary", he was (happily)obsessed by details, he described a room in a way (lovely of course!) whereby the reader can feel he is inside that room . Wonderful isn't it?
I spend lot of time in descriptions, writing different ways and "playing" with words and metaphora. It is quiet easy to fall in what we call "stereotypes", using words like "freedom", "beauty", "love", "soul", actually very heavy words that are going to remian empty if we just only "SAY" instead of "REPRESENTING".

Love Valentina

Scribbly said...

Yes, Valentina, I totally agree. Description conveys so much without 'telling'. I guess my problem is that I tend to be 'unfocused' about description, describing anything and everything, which ends up misleading the reader - drawing her down many, many dead-end roads. I will never relinquish my fondness, and ability for describing, but merely use it more sparingly - and as a result, more wisely.