I think I’ve mentioned before that when I read a story or novel, I often skim – or skip entirely – lengthy descriptive scenes. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that I also often find myself skipping over descriptions of the characters. Sometimes, I’ll read a book and I’ll make it through the description of a person. A long, drawn-out description, full of details about just how many freckles a person has or how long their eyelashes are. Then, two pages later, I’m imagining them differently, or I’ll just picture them with plain faces or general shapes. Unless it’s integral to the story, which it often isn’t, I just skim through those bits and then let my imagination fill in the gaps left behind. Maybe that’s a bad habit as a reader but that’s just how I roll. 😉
As a writer though, I agonize over having the right descriptive elements in my stories. I want to convey the way a person looks without boring the reader. And yet, I don’t want to go into so much detail that a reader stops using their imagination.
I was told a few years back that one of the most common amateur writing habits is describing something in too much detail. You want to convey exactly what you’re thinking or picturing about a scene or a person onto the page. But two or three pages later, you’re in the same moment, and the reader has already put the book – or ereader – down. Or maybe not. Maybe you have readers who will stick with you through the lengthy descriptions. For my part, as I mentioned above, I need to move past it. I prefer snappy dialogue, crisp action and roiling emotions. I care much less about her golden hair or his tuxedo or that house or floral arrangement or whatever.
Back to the writing of these descriptions though…when it comes to people, you do have to give at least a cursory description. With what I write, you need to describe what it is that the hero finds attractive about the heroine, and vice versa. I do that without ever really describing the way a person looks to me. Obviously, when I write my “Ice” stories about the ‘mystery’ men, I can describe the way they actually look and I don’t have to go into too much detail because most people know what they look like already. However, when it comes to describing the women, or even the secondary characters, I never know how much or how little to portray.
Like I mentioned above, I dislike coming across long-drawn out descriptions so I hesitate before going on and on about the way someone looks, dresses or even their gestures. I use gestures and expressions more as a tool during dialogue scenes, to avoid the use of the dreaded ‘speech tags,’ less as a means of describing how a person is.
In the end, I wonder if I’m not using enough of a description for a character. I’ve just got through rereading most of “Breaking Through the Ice,” and except for mentions of Mina’s unruly hair, Drew’s eyes (too much!!) and their smiles :D, I don’t really spend more than a few lines explaining how they appear to me. Is that good or bad?
For me, I prefer reading descriptions like that, or something more vague, like I’ve noticed in the novel I’m currently reading, “A Crimson Warning,” by Tasha Alexander. (Yeah, I was reading it last weekend. It’s been a busy week, OK?! I haven’t had much time for reading. I’m almost done though, and it’s gooood.) Anyway, in that novel, the author spends almost no time on describing how a character appears. Occasionally she’ll mention their clothing, as it takes place in the Victorian era, and their clothing and styles were different. Otherwise, she just assumes we readers can already imagine the two leads, a husband and wife. They are madly in love with each other and the wife (the novel is told from the point of view of the wife, Lady Emily) often refers to her husband as more handsome than any other man of her acquaintance. And that’s all we get.
Of course, I prefer this method and so I write this way most of the time. What do you prefer? Or have you ever even paid enough attention to that to give it a second thought?
On a side note, what has happened in the Stanley Cup Finals? My goodness, in the beginning, I thought this series was a foregone conclusion. Shows what I know. Tomorrow night’s game will prove to be very exciting. Any predictions on the outcome this week? One way or another, it’ll all be over by Wednesday.
As always, take care and happy reading.