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~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Description

DESCRIPTION is one of the four chief types of composition (along with argumentation, exposition and narration) that has as its purpose the picturing of a scene or setting. Although sometimes used for its own sake (as in Poe's Landor's Cottage) it more often is subordinated to one of the other types of writing, especially to narration, with which it most frequently goes hand in hand.

If you write YA, go easy on the DESCRIPTION. Younger readers love dialogue and will avoid a book that has large paragraph blocks describing the environment. Keep your descriptive passages brief and include in the dialogue tags to make your story a fast read.

Some genres are known for fuller use of description, such as fantasy where the readers need to visualize the world created in the story. And literary fiction. In fact, in these particular genres, if the author doesn't utilize DESCRIPTION properly, their readers will feel cheated.

(This post has been inspired by and in some instances, directly quoted from A Handbook to Literature, 8th Edition, by William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman)

50 comments:

  1. Great post! It is a challenging balance for those who write YA fantasy/sci fi.

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  2. I primarily write YA fantasy/sci-fi, and it's always a challenge to introduce the world as naturally as possible. I like to "show" as much as I can without slamming people with tons of description.

    Thanks for the post!

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  3. Good advice - dialog is challenging to write convincingly. Maybe that's why so many writers avoid it.

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  4. I tend to be light on the description. Even in fantasy, I don't want too much.

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  5. It's interesting that description preferences are genre-specific.
    Thanks for a great post.

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  6. Short and sweet and helpful post, thank you. Perhaps when you get to S you'll also talk about significant detail which is an important aspect of description. Description for description's sake can often read flat unless imbued with meaning specific to a particular character's state of mind. (Did that make sense? I hope so.)

    I so admire this A to Z challenge, Karen. How are you balancing it with your other writing? Hope it's going well.

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  7. Description is definitely my short fall. I have though learned a lot and I believe it is getting better. I find that description that involves the character is easier to read and doesn't look like info dumps. I agree with the importance of description especially when we don't know the world or time a novel is taking place in.

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  8. Great tips here - esp for YA!! Thanks KarenG! take care
    x

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  9. Great key points on Description. Thank you!
    All best
    Karla

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  10. One of the things I find interesting about description is how much it has evolved in literature. Older books were filled with page after page of sometimes dreary description, and it was considered the norm. Now, less is more. A sign of the times, maybe? Something to do with instant gratification and shrinking attention spans?

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  11. Hi!
    Great info. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for stopping by my place. Have a great day!

    Sherrie
    Just Books
    http://sherriesbooks.blogspot.com/2011/04/to-z-blogging-challenge_05.html

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. Great post. I can be bad about long descriptions. Trying to break the habit, but . . . it's taking time.

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  14. Previous comment deleted because of typos - oops! Trying again!
    Agree with those comments which say that describing someone or something from a character's POV works better than straight description, also bringing in more than one of their senses helps too.
    http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com

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  15. I'm a reader who frequently skips descriptions while reading, so I've become a writer who is sparse with descriptions.
    Karen

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  16. Great post! Nice reminder to me! ;)

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  17. You know, I think this is why so many adults like reading YA fiction -- they're not big on reading long, descriptive passages. They have no patience for it, and just want to get to the parts where you find out "what happened."

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  18. I don't like a lot of description - and I don't use it.

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  19. I love description, and I write for young readers, so I'm hoping I can buck that trend, to a certain degree.

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  20. I've always felt that dialogue is stronger than description. In the hands of a good writer, it moves the story forward. You can "see" a character by what another character says. And also by what the character does. This is why I like screen writing. Dialogue and action. The screen writer tells what the action is but doesn't have to write long descriptive paragraphs.

    Good post. Got me thinking again about how much I like screenplays.

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  21. Thank you so much. Very useful insight. :)

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  22. I love description, but as others have pointed out, you just can't put pages and pages of description into a book nowdays, without putting the reader to sleep. And a sleeping reader isn't BUYING your book, or recommending it to others. It's got to be woven in, a little at a time, like hiding the dog's medicine in a piece of cheese.

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  23. and in a nutshell you summed up why I write (and mostly read) YA--LOL! Too much description, and I get bored. But I do like knowing where I am! It's a balance. Thanks, KG~ :o)

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  24. Hm, I'm not great at description, so maybe I should write YA. That sounds like a cop out! I do have an idea for a YA novel someday, so that's good advice to remember. Meanwhile, to help me get better at description, I like to people watch and write down everything I can about them. It's tons of fun!

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  25. Very true, there have been books I read that had to much description and some that had the right amount. =)

    http://tigeronmybookshelf.blogspot.com/

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  26. Good points! I am not a big fan of too much description - unless, as you said, it's a whole new world where you need to have it explained. I most definitely agree about YA fiction, too much description and the book will probably not be read. :)

    Also blogging at:
    http://atimetoshine.wordpress.com/
    http://www.karensandersfreelancing.com/blog.html

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  27. Description that does nothing but describe is lazy.

    Why not use it to influence mood, set tone, foreshadow, and create little rhythms and harmonies as you go?

    Make your words work. Do that, and you're likely to end with a story that's lean and strong.

    Best,
    Joe
    D: Devious Devices from the DeMoulin factory

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  28. Good point Karen, the youngsters do prefer the dialogue definitely. ;-)

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  29. Great tips! Thank you! I always try to do my best to find the right balance between description and dialogue when I write. I love description but sometimes I get scared that I overdo it!

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  30. Great info, thanks for sharing. :)

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  31. Great distinction between YA and other types of writing! Very well said!

    EJ

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  32. *grins*

    I have D for description, too! Great minds...lol.

    Also, great advice! I'm not currently writing YA but that is a good point.

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  33. Good description of good descriptive writing.

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  34. Another informative post. Thank you so much.--Inger

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  35. Excellent information. I sometimes get carried away and write too much description. You've given me something to think about!

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  36. I got into sci-fi through Phillip K. Dick - there are, I believe, worse introductions. I vaguely recall reading an essay of his that asserted the art of science fiction was in making just one tiny change to the real world and introducing your readers to that change... the implication was that you only had to DESCRIBE that change and its effects, you could allow your readers to assume everything else.

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  37. ..description anchors the soul of a beautiful story. For without it, it's just a nasty rumor:)

    Great post,

    EL

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  38. I remember when I was younger I liked the books that didn't have too much description; I did like the Babysitter's Club series, but I didn't like how the author would have several pages of description of what the characters were wearing in every single book. I don't think it was necessary for her to do that, especially since a lot of her readers who followed the series would already be familiar with what the babysitters wore.

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  39. Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog! Great post. I don't know if I'll ever write anything to be published, but I love to read and I love to read about people who write. I'm following and I'll be back! :-)

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  40. Great advice. Description is something I have to work on. It typically doesn't come naturally to me.

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  41. What a wonderful blog and how fabulous it is to glean from the experts.

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  42. Great advice Karen, and so true about too much description in YA!

    Hugs,

    Rach

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