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?