by Rachel Coker
You've all heard the old adage. "Show, don't tell." And as a reader, I totally get where this is coming from. Nothing annoys me more than reading a great book and getting to an extremely boring (and usually obnoxiously lengthy) section of pure narrative. The sarcastic voice in my head immediately questions why on earth the author thought it was important for me to know that the main character had "huge, doe-shaped eyes" or "long, tangled flaming auburn curls". The words "large eyes" and "red hair" would be more than enough to satisfy me in most instances.
Same goes with authors who have to specify that their characters "shouted angrily", as if I might for some reason imagine they were shouting delicately. It just blows my mind sometimes.
HOWEVER, there has been a recent trend in writing that is really, really disturbing me. And that is the idea that descriptions don't matter.
That the soul of the book should rely purely on dialog and abrupt, short pacing. I picked up a book the other day and found one page to be almost nothing but back and forth dialog, with few speech tags, and virtually no descriptions of what was going on between the characters. I may be one of the few authors still saying this these days, but descriptions can be very important. But they must be used properly.
If you're anything like me, you may be a very visual person. A lot of people find that hard to believe, since I'm obviously a writer and can express what I'm feeling pretty well through my words. But, believe it or not, I don't love a lot of dialog in a book. I'm one of the few writers that thinks that more can be expressed in a short description of a glance, or a tiny gesture, than a conversation.
I tend to pick up motions and movements more in real life than I do words. I read a lot into the way someone looks about something, and I tend to lean toward making judgments based on first impressions. More authors need to learn how to use descriptions, and how to use them properly. While I don't want you to go add an extra ten thousand words of pointless descriptive narrative to your books, I would encourage you to think outside the box a bit and add a few enhancing descriptions when necessary. Here are a few ideas:
- Describe your character's bedroom
- Describe body language during a discussion
- Describe smells, both good and bad
- Describe someone's voice
So there you have it folks. Don't go complaining that you can't think of any ways to add descriptions to your books, because I've just given you four idea starters!
Now it's your turn. How are you going to add descriptions sparsely but creatively, and help enhance your stories and characters? Good luck!
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