Daily Archives: February 25, 2010

The Case for Little Description

My DH doesn’t read fiction.  Since we’ve been together, he’s read four novels.  All to appease me.  While on vacation, he started another book.  So, you may be thinking, almost five books in 24 years doesn’t exactly make him a literary expert.  However, his incredible insight the other day makes him the perfect voice of reason for less is more in description.

On our way up north he, at the wheel and me riding shotgun with my nose in a book, says, “You know the crazy thing about reading?”

“Hmmmmmm.”

“When I started reading Insert Last Novel Title Here, I could picture the house perfectly.”

My ears perked up and I set aside my Latest Novel.  “How so?”

DH went on to explain that as he read, he saw the inside of the living room right down to the color on the walls.  The Dear Author had not given him this information in paragraphs of detail.  Instead, he had simply written that the bodies were found in the living room next to the couch and in front of the fireplace.  He also walked DH up the stairs to the little girls’ room.  Not through ornate words and adjective cluttered sentence, but rather one step at a time via emotions and actions. 

DA allowed DH to fill in the blanks.  In his mind, DH was there, in the house with the characters.  He was invested in the atmosphere because of the LACK of description.

I prodded him to continue.  “A bar, for example, should be a bar.  With a certain kind of music.  Smokey or not, light or dim.  That’s enough information for me to know exactly what kind of place it is.”

Dim and smokey.  Immediately I was transported into every Legion bar that I’ve ever seen.  Admittedly that’s not a lot, but I knew that DH and I would end up in the same bar.

Bon Jovi blaring through the juke box elicits a whole different atmosphere.  A place with ceramic floors, a younger crowd and plastic glasses filled with cheap beer tapped from the keg.  Oh yeah, and a few older, haven’t-left-the-80’s, mulletted men sitting alone in corner booths oggling the Gen Xer’s in their tight jeans and tighter tank tops.

Country music wafting through the air along with thin streams of smoke puts me in a place with wooden floors and the stale scent of beer, surrounded by scruffy men and poofy-haired, cleavaged women. 

I don’t know where you would end up with those simple descriptions, but the point is, it would be your bar.  You would be there, smelling the smoke, feeling the sticky counter, gazing out of a blue haze at the characters. 

If the bar was described ad nauseum, we would all end up in the same exact place.  However, we would feel like spectators, not participants. 

When I write, I seldom describe anything with more than a sentence or two.  And most of what I write is slipped in during conversation or action.  I do this because reading long passages that don’t allow me to create my own setting is boring.  I have been known to skip pages at a time to avoid being told every little detail.

How do you feel about description in novels?  Are you in favor of detailed passages that put your readers exactly where you want them, or do you prefer to let them wander through the story in a place slightly different than you envisioned?  Does it matter?

When you read, do you enjoy making the story your own or do you crave to see exactly what the author saw when writing?