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Monday, May 7, 2012

the boring bits and what to do with them

I have read upon more than one occasion that the best way to keep your readers interested is to leave out the boring bits. Usually this means description because it’s the one place where nothing is happening. Dialogue and action move the story forward but description is like a rest area where you’re supposed to enjoy the scenery. So the question becomes how do we make our descriptive passages interesting, because it goes without saying we can’t just do away with description altogether.

Let’s look at an example.

“Alone in his flat, Marco constructs tiny rooms from scraps of paper. Hallways and doors crafted from pages of books and bits of blueprint, pieces of wallpaper and fragments of letters.

He composes chambers that lead into others that Celia has created. Stairs that wind around her halls.”
From THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern
This is a description of what Marco makes and while it might not make as much sense to those who haven’t read the book (which I highly recommend, by the way) you can still see how lovely it is, hear the cadence of the words, perhaps even picture what Marco is making.

The trick then is making our descriptions come alive with voice. I don’t know about you but I can hear the longing in that short little passage and I get the feeling we’re talking about more than architecture. This is how to make your descriptions stand out, be memorable, and above all, be interesting.

Now it’s your turn. Think you have a short descriptive passage worthy of showing off? Something you’re proud of having written? If so we’d love for you to share it in the comments. Or maybe you have one you’d like help making sparkle. In that case send it to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com and I’ll critique it on Tuesday. 500 words or less, please and thank you in advance for your submissions. Remember, critiquing helps all of us :) 


Charity Bradford said...

So true! Too much description sends the reader into skim mode, but don't leave it out entirely. I learned from my latest experience with ABNA that you can actually have too little description.

The trick is filling it with voice and purpose, like you mentioned, so we can tie the reader to the scene. It helps them feel the sensory input the MC is experiencing.

Great post!

Jay Noel said...

I like description, but only if it has a purpose. I guess I come from the S. Sheldon school of writing. I strip a lot of stuff away, as my writing is so plot/action driven. But I have to make sure I give the reader enough of a visual picture. So it's a tough balance sometimes.

mshatch said...

Exactly. Balance is what it's all about. because the reader needs to picture where they are, feel it, smell it, see it. But if you go on too long then they'll just fall asleep on you.

Francene Stanley said...

I like to add my readers opinions itno descriptions. After all, everything is seen through their eyes. Here's my excerpt:

Why did his feet stick in the ground this way? He lifted one foot. The print his weight had made filled with black liquid. A swamp. Sodden night soil! Nothing he could do but continue.
Ahead he made out a stretch of water with large leaves growing over the surface. Croaks from frogs gave a rhythm to his steps as he headed away from the water towards the coast.
Insects landed on his skin. At the first sting, he slapped his forearm. Insects lifted off and landed again. They buzzed around him with high, whining noises. The bites stung.


mshatch said...

Nice! I could almost feel those mosquitoes, hear their whine.