Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How much is too much? Part 2

Following up my genius musings of the previous post (I'm only kidding - I'm terrible and my brain has maybe never been fuzzier), I'm going to ask how much is too much when referring to... description?

Okay, you all know by now that description and I are mortal enemies. I try, I really try, but it's hard. Because the only way I read description in a book is if it's ingeniously stripped to the action/character (parts of a book which I eat whole). So, until I perfect that, I'm sticking to minimal description.

But, in general (ignoring my inability to cope with large chunks of text), where do you draw the line with description?

Personally, I'll let you do the surroundings - you're doing the whole place description in vain, since after I read the first 2 or so traits of your scenery/character/object, I immediately picture it inside my head and ignore the rest of the words. Sometimes, not even the main things stick. And when I find out I'm wrong, I get really pissed that my imagination got ruined.

I don't do it on purpose - I just imagine things the way I want them without being able to control them. I was so pissed at the Harry Potter movies for the layout of the school grounds because I imagined them in a completely different (less emo) way.

I think I just sidetracked. So, yes, I buy description in scifi and fantasy, since you need it. But I have some really good writing friends who managed to do that without boring the crap out of me. The key (In my opinion) is making it all sound natural. If the character feels at home in that universe, he won't spend hours watching the walls and buildings and aliens and elves and stuff. And that helps me immerse in the story and swallow it all up.

Regarding character description - here I think that too much is waaaay too much. Here's how my brain works - you give me hair color, eye color, approximate height and built, any distinctive traits (he has a scar/beard/warts/ is ugly as hell) and I don't need more. My head does the rest before I even manage to get to the person's square jaw and high cheekbones - I don't care that much. Maybe my ideal of your hunk man is different, so let me imagine him the way I want, please. And, even if you don't, I still will.

I realized it's much easier for me to read women's descriptions. I still ignore whatever I don't subconsciously agree with, but I have the patience (and don't roll my eyes) to read them to the end. If you're character talks and acts like a feisty brunette, I'm not going to picture her as a blonde, no matter how many times you tell me about her golden locks and sparkling blue eyes.

Descriptions of actions can get tedious, too. Sometimes, I just feel like yelling 'Get to the point!' We all know what pulling out cutlery looks like - I personally don't need to be shown how they pull the drawer open, reach out their hand, clasp their fingers around the cold stainless steel, tighten the grip, pull it out, then, using the free hand, push the drawer closed. Save the kick-ass description of actions and hand gestures for where it matters (like punching someone in the face or doing something unusual).

What kind of description bothers me? I'll just give you an example. Am currently reading the Song of Ice and Fire series. The description is usually done really well and tied to the action and everything, but here's where I draw the line. I don't really care how each and every armor of each and every lord looks like. I don't even care about their house banner, since I'll forget all the non important ones as soon as I've read them. That's a lot more information than I care to know.

Also, going over two pages describing each and every sense related thing in a place is a bit much. I get it if you go for sound/sight/smell - the 3 S es - but everything beyond that is just an exaggeration. Anything actually that exceeds three senses if over-described IMO. If you give me 3, I'll deduce the others myself.

Of course, all of the above applies to ordinary stuff - if something smells like crap, looks like a piece of auto-motor, feels like sand, but tastes like candy - I wanna know all that stuff :p But not with the things that I can deduce on my own. Cuz then, I'll just think you're trying too hard.

I think us writers should consider a very important point. We are masters (or at least are trying to be) of putting feelings and attitude across through words. I personally believe we put our own attitude in our work, too. It's a lot more subtle than what happens with the plot and characters, but it's there, very well hidden. So we should be a little concerned that the reader WILL realize that we're: trying too hard, not comfortable with that one para that everyone said was genius, consider them too stupid to pick up on some minor plot hole, wanna prove that we swallowed a dictionary.... and so on.

I did actually pick up on some writer attitude in some of the books I've read. Made me not like the book much anymore.

Well, enough rambling from me. So, where do you draw the line regarding description?

1 comment:

  1. Boring descriptions of any kind of room put me to sleep. I've been in rooms before so I can fill in the blanks. But if the character's personality comes through the description, then yay! So like if the slightly overweight MC says the circles on the rug look like donuts, that says something about her and describes the room at the same time, and I'm okay with that. :)


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