How much is too much?

Saturday March 19, 2011 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Editorial

You know, I have a lot of respect for authors that can write wonderful prose. I know I’m not one of them, but not for a lack of trying. I think they have a gift for using picturesque words and putting them together just the right way to evoke an image in your mind. The really good ones make it so it’s hardly like reading at all, more like experiencing the story. Then there are those that have a great gift for creating imaginative and off the wall ideas that mere mortals just shake their heads at in wonder and amazement. Some area actually gifted with both and they are the great ones we all admire.

I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite new authors and he has a gift for dialogue. He has some amazing ideas for setting and his characters are layered, complex and interesting. His plots are full of twists and turns too, he is really very talented but I have a nit to pick. Way too much description! I mean WAY TOO MUCH. Paragraphs of detailed minutia. I actually skipped entire sections because I just didn’t care. I started in, but the things he was describing were so complex that I wasn’t able to see it clearly in my mind’s eye. After a while I just quit trying. If he started off on another wave of informative adjectives I just escaped to the next paragraph, and then the next one often times. They were superfluous to the story, but he apparently felt I needed to understand how many great ideas he had that he was compelled to share with me. I understand this desire. Authors fall in love with the worlds they create and the more different from normal they are, the more the desire to describe increases.

This is a lesson many of us need to heed. We just spent an enormous amount of time building that world with all kinds of cool environments that nobody has ever thought of before and we are just dying to share them with you. But the only description we should be sharing with you is stuff that is germane to the story and the character that is carrying the perspective. Some description is of course necessary, but the trick is not going overboard with long paragraphs of stuff that will have no impact on the character of affect the flow of the story. If anything I tend to be too sparse with my descriptions, so it really bothers me when someone goes the opposite way and loads up on the descriptives. Where do you fall on the descriptives scale? I know I’m way on the side that has very little.


Clear Ether!


7 Responses

  1. You know though … some readers like to read a lot of description. Some like a lot of dialogue. Some want to know every detail. It just depends on the reader. And one downfall I've seen is writers who have great imaginations. They can see it all. Yet, they fail in making the world clear enough for others to see.That's my two cents for the day. Happy Writing, Todd.

  2. I think sometimes the hardest part of writing is seeing the entire scene in your (the writer's) head and trying to effectively communicate it onto paper so that the readers will see the exact same thing. Some writers underdo it, some overdo it; your post hits it right on the head. Some are so prosy that I flip pages to look for something that's actually going on. Some (Dan Brown comes to mind) love to show readers how much they know in dialogue, and it just sounds ridiculous.I hope I'm not the author you're talking about! :-)~Steve

  3. I don't like over-descriptive books. Give me an idea of the scene, but I don't need to know minor details that don't progress the story.This is a problem in the novel world because they have to be a certain word length. Self-publishing is changing this. This is why, for now, I'm sticking with writing short stories and novelettes. I don't have to drag anything out – I can get right to the point.

  4. Hi Todd! Descriptions are my problem, too. Too much puts me to sleep. Not enough and I'm lost. How do you find the right balance? I just hope I've found that balance in my own writing (because I am, afterall, writing for me!). Descriptions are usually added during my edits, because I hate being pulled out of my story during the first draft. And even then, I tend not to elaborate (and will lean heavily on my critique partners to point out if it's too sparce).So – have you finished your book yet? I'm getting REALLY close to finishing mine!

  5. You make a good point about description. Where to draw the line? That's a hard choice. I make myself cut it off when it feels like the story stalls. Tough to know how much is the right amount.

  6. I get glazed eyes when there is too much descriptive narrative. If the wind is blowing, and it blows an important note out of the heroine's hand, then yeah, I care what the weather is like. But otherwise, eh, not so much. Unfortunately, when I write, I don't do enough of the descriptive thing…happy medium? somewhere I'm sure!

  7. Enjoyed your post. I agree that too much description can bog down a story. If I'm in a good book that has too much, I just skip to the next interesting part. But if the story isn't strong enough to make me do that, that's when I put the book down. I think that old advice to writer's is true: \”Kill your darlings.\” Sometimes the writer is so in love with his/her words, he/she can't bear to part with them. But pruning makes for a good read!

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