Saturday, August 15, 2015

Writer's Reference - Descriptions

Today I wanted to take a moment and discuss something that I've found incredibly important to remember while you're writing. That is: remembering the importance of description or the lack there of.

Allow me to explain.

One thing that I see pop up time and again, particularly with young writers, is a term that has been often called "info dump". This can refer to any number of things including background information, exposition, or the descriptions regarding nouns (i.e. people, places, or things). It's very common especially in those younger writers because the writer in question has a number of fantastic ideas about how something looks or acts or seems in their head and they want to get it out on paper for all to enjoy. While this is all well and good, it presents some notable issues.

1) Heavy description breaks the flow of the story.
 - Consider that you've been reading this fantastic tale following an individual on their quest to find a holy sword. Or perhaps you've been reading about a young woman who's been reminiscing about old times. You've had a solid flow of storyline that has brought you from place to event and so on and so forth. However, each time you have a brand new character introduced, they have two to three paragraphs of descriptions. Observe:

   With a sigh, she put down the book. She couldn't read anymore. Her thoughts were swimming and she didn't know what to make of it all. She turned to look out the window and saw a man standing at the base of the poplar tree outside her window.
    He was white. He looked to be maybe 6 foot tall or so. He was wearing a black jacket with a red shirt and blue jeans that stopped just short of a pair of black military boots. His hair was cut short and she could just make out the shine of green eyes from underneath his glasses. He wore a beard that was cut short along his neckline and formed up into a simple goatee. A little silver earring hung from his left ear and a necklace with some kind of a pendant hung around his throat. He was dashingly handsome and clearly well muscled.

Yea...Little distracting ain't it? Having to read everything about this guy? Let's try it another way.

   With a sigh, she put down the book. She couldn't read anymore. Her thoughts were swimming and she didn't know what to make of it all. She turned to look out the window and saw a man standing at the base of the poplar tree outside her window. He was strikingly handsome and seemed strangely out of place.

See the difference? While it may SEEM important to put in all that description, you must ask yourself "Is it?" Does the color of his shirt or his jewelry make any difference in the story? Probably not. Does the fact that he's muscled or wearing military boots. Possibly (if it is within the context of the story). You have to consider what is important and what is it so as to keep the description to point.

The other major problem with heavy description is that it...

2) Discounts the importance of imagination
 - Reading and writing are, at the end of the day, a very heavily imaginative medium. The power of imagination is what fuels the story and removing the twists and turns of the human psyche can have devastating effects on the story at large. Consider the Xenomorph from the "Alien" saga that we have pictured above. It's no doubt that it is definitely a freaky looking monster, but let's consider this in the context of a written story versus a visual medium like movies.

    The beast reared it's ugly, banana shaped head. It seemed to have been ripped straight from the nightmares of a mad-man. It was pitch black, the color of gleaming obsidian, and every inch of it seemed almost bio mechanical in nature. Standing at least a foot or two above her, it sported massive claws on both hand and foot and a long, viscous looking tail that came to a point with a barbed stinger. Drool billowed down from parted teeth and, deep inside its mouth, she could make out a second set of jaws that laid in wait.Now, this is not particularly bad. It paints a solid image of a beastly creature that is going to freaking MURDER the main character. Scary? Consider a separate description that focuses more on elements then finer details.

    It slunk from the shadows and stood to its full height before her. She was dwarfed in comparison. It was nearly impossible to make out in the darkness and seemed to be made of the tubes and wires of the walls itself, like the shadows itself had come alive to take her. A horrible visage of teeth and claws that let out a threatening hiss as it slid towards her.

Quite a different image isn't it? By utilizing less direct descriptors and instead allowing the imagination to fill in the holes, the mind can run away with it. Now, anyone who has SEEN the "Aliens" franchise can simply imagine the Xenomorph and fill in the blank. Consider those that haven't...What did they see in their imagination? I'll bet it's more intimidating than any single monster any person can dream up. An individual horror, specific to the individual, that has meaning only to them.

Additionally, this same power of imagination isn't limited to the act of "horror" writing. Allowing an individual to fill in THEIR own meaning and THEIR own creation will allow you more leeway and power than any one single thought or character description you will ever create because it will have more meaning to the reader than anything else.

Just a few things to consider.


  1. Which is part of the reason I don't watch movies made from books I love. The images don't match the ones in my head.

    1. Makes sense to me. Run into that more than a few times.

  2. I always go with the less is more way, works for my bay

    1. A decent policy. Obviously there is no 'wrong way' to really write, but I'm in favor of a similar style.