Hello! Saturday, I asked readers to chime in about descriptive passages because I’m in a slump. Thanks Holly and Dave for helping me out! I know more readers will find your advice useful.
I usually skip descriptions in the early drafts, unless I have a very vivid image that just needs to be written down. Most of the time, I read through my rough draft and find the areas where the pace in the scene naturally drops, where it’s realistic for a character to look around and notice things. I try to find unique things to describe about the setting so that it really brings the scene to life, adds something to the overall story, and creates a concrete image in the reader’s mind.
For example, anyone can picture a messy apartment. But if I tell you that the messy apartment in my story is mostly filled with boxes of WWII paraphernalia, I’ve just given you a unique visual and told you something about the person that lives there.
I love scenery and room descriptions to a point. Like you say, too much description though clogs up the story. But I will always prefer some form of description over bare white rooms.
I feel a lot of the art in good descriptions comes from fitting them in seamlessly with the scene. I use character beats a lot for this, meaning during the actions and observations a character makes while engaged in dialog or other actions within the scene. Instead of in a flood as a character enters the room or you first glimpse a character and it brings the scene to a halt.
I am working on this very issue while fleshing out my second draft. This is the stage I planned on adding most of my descriptions, but now I am running up on the problem of word count. I want the good descriptions in there but compared to actual story elements some of it feels like padding and in the future when I come through on my final edits they will likely be cut for space. Its a dilemma, but I feel like it is better than a story coming up short and then packing in extra description to meet a minimum word count.
I definitely agree with both Holly and Dave. Like Holly I try to relate descriptions to characters and like Dave I try to find the right beat, but I feel it hasn’t come together recently. A lot of books I read use much more description than I do, and I wonder if my stories look amateurish by comparison. But then I remember Elmore Leonard who used very little description. No one would say he’s amateurish.
A big short coming I have is describing people: brown hair, brown eyes covers a good chunk of the population and is bland. Going into ethnicity makes me uncomfortable, possibly because of how I see it done other places. I was reading a book that described the protagonist’s best friend as a “spicy Latina.” It made me cringe. And in romance, all black women must say “girlfriend” frequently.
I think I’m getting off topic now. Probably what I’m trying to say is some authors use cliches or stereo types as easy ways to put an image in the readers head. I don’t want to be a writer like that. But I’ve been finding myself using my own version of lazy writing because I’m trying to churn out the words so fast.
Maybe I should just slow dow.