Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Less Is More...

I have a tendency sometimes to over-describe things in my fiction. To try too hard to paint a picture of a scene with my words. Of course, my honest intent is to provide a richness of detail for the readers, to "put them there," inside the scene with the characters. Sometimes that sort of description is okay. But as I tell my students, too much description can bore the reader, and worse, can slow down the pacing of the story. Not good. Put yourself inside the readers' heads for a moment - are there passages they'd be tempted to skim over quickly, to get back to the "good stuff," (ie, the plot)? If so, TRIM it down.

Sure, there are times and places for rich, elaborate descriptions -- but the descriptions should be vital to the story, to the plot.

Two great quotes to ponder on this issue:

Don't overwrite. Avoid the redundant phrases, the distracting adjectives, the unnecessary adverbs. Beginners, especially, seem to think that writing fiction needs a special kind of flowery prose, completely unlike any sort of language one might encounter in day-to-day life. This is a misapprehension about how the effects of fiction are produced....a deliberately limited vocabulary can produce an astonishing emotional punch. ~Sarah Waters

Description must work for its place. It can't be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action. ~Hilary Mantel

Brilliant advice! I hadn't ever looked at description in quite that exact way before -- the idea of seeing description through a character's eyes, or making it valid/important to the character so directly, rather than simply "setting a scene" in a sort of vague, omniscient way.

I love it when I find a quote or idea that changes the way I've looked at something for years. And I hope I can apply the lesson to my own fiction: that less really is more...


  1. > it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint,

    Great advice! That one hits home.

  2. Love that second one... well stated, and clarifying something I have known as a reader, but never could have articulated to someone else.

  3. It's challenge for sure. But I think 'implied' is better.