As a writer, one of my greatest strengths, or so I’ve been told, is description. I do love for the reader to see the countryside as I see it. And to write an engaging account, the author needs to intimately know the landscape. If you’re writing about an area where you’ve lived and love, it’s easy. Otherwise, unless you visit the area or do a great deal of research, it may sound stilted or flat.
But how much description should you include in your story and when does it become too much? Good question and one I’ve faced many times. Because I love it, I write it and then have to reduce it by 3/4ths.
My first novel had pages of beautiful descriptive passages of west Texas, the flora and fauna, the mesas, the land ruined by oil derricks, and the offensive smell of gas. My sister had never been to the area and loved it. An editor said it read like a travelogue. Oh, it was painful to cut out that beautiful description from my manuscript, but when it was finished, I had a much better story.
Description should enhance the characters and have a direct affect on the plot of your story. In my first novel, When the Ocotillo Bloom(reissued by Champagne Books July 2009), the hero compares the heroine to the ocotillo plant. It is bare and ugly in the winter, but when it rains in the spring, tiny green leaves adorn the stems and cover its thorns. At the top of each long spike blooms a beautiful reddish-gold flower. The heroine is prickly with an attitude, but as the layers of her discontent peel away, her beauty is exposed.
Our readers need to know what our character’s environments are like, but they don’t need a detailed description of the floor plan or furniture. It’s nice if they know the style of the house because in many ways it reflects the hero/heroine’s personality and lifestyle. The u-shaped hacienda blended with the raw landscape of distant mesas and purple sunsets. The cactus that grew beside the front walk merged with the adobe giving the impression it was an extension of the house itself.
If we describe the house inside, we want the description to be part of the action. She plopped down on the horrid orange sofa she’d bought at a salvage house. It clashed nicely with the stuffed red chair she’d found by the dumpster outside her apartment. Yep, her place added a new dimension to shabby chic.
How do you handle description in your stories? Is writing it a pleasure or a pain?
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Happy Reading and Writing!