A word about descriptions

31, May,2007

Description is something I struggle with. I like dialog, perhaps a little smattering of description in between to set the scene, but that’s it.

Unfortunatley, I have created an unusual world for my novel and I need to give readers a sense of the place. That means more description, but how much?

I liked Stephen Donaldson‘s Thomas Covenant series, but I found myself regularly flicking through 3 or 4 pages of landscape description, or repetition of the Convenant’s inner turmoil. Honestly, forests are not that interesting, and Convenant needed a good kick in the goolies pants. I also liked Russell Kirkpatrick‘s Fire of Heaven trilogy, but in book 1 his background as a map maker peeped through a bit often. I’ve made my opinion of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell clear in earlier posts, so I won’t labour the point (how many trees died for those extra 600 pages).

So, just when I’m thinking that less is better, I read China Mieville’s, Perdido Station – absolutely choc full of detailed gothic description. Absolutely mesmerising.

As a writer, how do you know when you’ve got enough, and more importantly, how do know you’re over doing it?
What are the warning signs?
Do you have to wait for first reader feedback?

I like the approach of Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett who build gags into their worlds. The descriptions are entertaining while still creating a feel for the world. Maybe I’ll try something like that.

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2 Responses to “A word about descriptions”

  1. Buffy Says:

    I really struggle with description. Too little, not too much. I tell myself that less is more but only because I don’t know how to do ‘more’. Then, like you, I read a book chalked full of what should be boring descriptives and want to try to learn. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. At one point she describes a dinner scene in ridiculous mundane detail. But it doesn’t manage to stall even for a moment. It reads so well and is so fascinating..and I can’t for the life of me figure out why because, ya know, it’s dinner. How she does it, I doubt I’ll ever know.

  2. Cameron Says:

    Thanks for dropping by Buffy. I had a quick look at the sample chapter on your blog and I think you’re doing damn fine.


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