Throwback Thursday – How much is too much?
Thursday August 29, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging
This goes back to March 2011. I was pretty tough on my own skill. I have improved. I can write a nice scene, even a descriptive scene. They don’t come naturally to me, but there is this thing called craft. I am working on trying to write descriptive snippets, in the style of William Gibson. Snippets are fine. They are good in my humble opinion, but there is a point when the description goes overboard. I have seen wonderful writers, whose work I admire, go off the rails. Well, you can read this for yourself.
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 are 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 or 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 description. Where do you fall on the description scale? I know I’m way on the side that has very little.
I like your comment “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” because I agree from a reader’s POV. One of my favourite authors Jasper Fforde wrote Early Riser which is heavy with world-building and I forced myself to read all of it. But I know many readers who adored that minutia and absorbed every detail.
I do hear that some people like that. It takes me out of the story and I start skipping stuff. I see this a lot with authors who make it big and it seems like they stop using an editor. I have stopped reading them. I think it’s important to know the risk you take as a writer if you overdo it. Thanks for the comment!