Sharing Writing Ideas – Description

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Again, I’m inviting everyone (both writers and readers) to share some of their beliefs, writing habits, expertise, and opinions on a variety of subjects connected to writing or reading novels.

Today’s topic is description. I’d like to hear what you think. How much description should you provide for your characters? Is it better to let the reader fill in the blanks after a very sketchy description, or should you paint a complete picture of what they look like?

I’ve read some books where I have no idea what the character looks like, and I’ve read others where I am nearly falling asleep from the detailed description.

As a reader, what do you prefer? As a writer, what is your style and your advice on the use of description?

Please don’t be shy. Tell us what you think and share your ideas.

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7 thoughts on “Sharing Writing Ideas – Description

  1. Good question. Authors are competing with visual media like never before. Readers don’t have the patience for lengthy description so I tend to keep descriptions short–just give the reader a general impression. Another reason to not go into too much detail is to let the reader form their own image. Being able to picture the character the way you want them to appear is one of readings greatest advantages over visual media. Think of characters on TV or in the movies who don’t “fit” what you think they should look like. Forming your own impression eliminates that problem.

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  2. Now this is an interesting one… do i like long descriptions in a book.?? Not really, i prefer a basic description letting me fill in the blanks in my own mind to suit how i think they should look… i read a book recently where the author over described everything, I can’t even remember the books title I got so bored by it all… She took longer to describe a sex scene than it would have taken the act to happen… I don’t even recall if I finished the book, as I was given 3 new books that I do enjoy and I think I dump that one to begin one of the new ones… so my conclusion… leave a little to the reader…

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    • LOL! Those long descriptions can get pretty boring. I remember reading an otherwise interesting book and starting to skim when I got to the two-page descriptions of the lady’s fancy dress with all her ribbons and bows, and the beautiful house her suitor lived in. The worst thing an author can hear is that the reader thought so little of their writing that they skimmed over the words. Thanks for your honest reaction and comment, Rob. I bet a lot of people feel like that about too much description. But then there are some books with too little description. Somewhere in the middle, is the perfect amount.

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  3. I never give a very detailed description of a character’s looks, and I don’t get much out of descriptions of people in books I read. But I have face-blindness which makes it almost impossible for me to picture a person’s face beyond basics like hair and skin colour. So it’s interesting to see what other people think about it.

    For description in general, not necessarily of people, I think less is generally more. Letting the reader imagine things for themselves is sort of the point of books as opposed to other media. But at the same time it’s important to have enough description to give people a flavour of what it is you’re describing. I think sometimes it’s how you include description in a scene more than how much you include. There’s no need to describe everything, with nothing happening, for readers to slog through before they get to the interesting part.

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    • Exactly! I like the idea of dropping a little description here and there, just a word or two in the right places, to help build a basis for the reader and then they can then fill in the rest in their imagination. You’re so right about books being different from movies in that way. How many times have we been disappointed by a movie after reading the book because it doesn’t live up to how we imagined the scenes and characters when we read the book? Thanks for your comments, Carrie.

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