A Razors Edge - Balance between description and brevity

ALonelyParrot

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I'm not quite sure, but how does one write with enough description to paint accurate pictures in the reader's mind while not boring them at the same time? I have a guess that I could read some literature and practice writing, but beyond that, are there anymore pieces of advice?
 

Arexio

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I'm not quite sure, but how does one write with enough description to paint accurate pictures in the reader's mind while not boring them at the same time? I have a guess that I could read some literature and practice writing, but beyond that, are there anymore pieces of advice?
Some authors over on NUF asked a similar question about exposition (Link).

What I got from some of the discussion is that there's a time and place where you lean towards using more words and scene descriptions (typically when you're doing bigger fantasy settings and writing epic-like pieces), but most of the time you should be going for brevity and "cutting out the fluff" in scenes.

I guess it also depends on the genre you're writing too. High fantasy needs more words spent on descriptions than modern day settings.

Sorry, I couldn't be too helpful, but there are more experienced authors talking about it if you follow the link.

Just my 2 cents,
Rex
 

tak

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I watched some
enough description to paint accurate pictures in the reader's mind
my opinion as a reader: don't.
I don't need to know exactly what it is, i just need to know roughly how it feels. You could write 5 paragraph about a room with what kind of wood is used, the colour, the grain, the carving techniques, windows on which side, how it's polished with gold and stuff. But my brain will forget it in 10 seconds and just remember those words as "rich, classic-looking room". Also breaks the flow cause if i'm curious, i need to google how does mahogany wood looks like.
But!, there are detailed-oriented people who appreciates those stuff.
I guess, readers are all different and do what you deem fit?
 

flucket

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What Arexio said. Just like in film where the director will often use a wide shot to set the scene and location and allow the audience to understand the geography of the new scene, then switch to close shots (especially in dialogue heavy scenes) in order to focus the audience on the characters and actions rather than the location, in writing you would save heavy descriptive prose for new locations within the story to give the reader an understanding of where the characters are located in a scene, and reference to each other, or give the audience a clear picture of the appearance of a new character. An audience who only has to read long descriptive texts once every few chapters as the story moves on to new scenarios/locations/characters will have a higher tolerance for how much description they're willing to read through.

As it was after opening hours, most of the lights of the pub had been turned off, leaving only the flickering glow of the neon sign above the bar to light the room. Chairs and tables had been wiped down and stacked against the far wall, only a few stools remaining for the three men to sit upon, as the fourth stood behind the bar, refilling their tumblers.

It's enough description to understand where the location is (a pub, presumably fairly late at night/early morning if it's after closing), where the characters are positioned within that location (by the bar), how many people are there (four, all men), and roughly what they're doing (three sitting, one serving). It's not a lot of descriptive text, but it should more or less paint not only an image of the scene, but also a mood - dim, gloomy, perhaps secretive if they're meeting in private after hours, yet casual enough that they're drinking together. After that you can focus freely on their discussion, or if there's an action sequence the audience already understands that most of the floor of the bar has been cleared of tables and chairs so there are few obstacles in the fight, if someone suddenly grabs a bottle the audience can infer that it may be the bottle they'd been drinking from, etc.

If you wanna know "how much is too much", I guess, get a load of Tolkein.

ETA: It also depends on genre. Lots of novels don't need involved descriptions of a character's appearance, but for a genre like, say, romance, where most of the story is being driven by the characters and their interactions with and attraction to one another, you'd give more description of their appearances so we understand why Female Lead would be attracted to Male Lead. On the flip side, a horror story might intentionally use less description, or use description that evokes feeling rather solid imagery, because usually the more the audience can project their own fears and paranoia onto the story, the more effective the horror would be.

Or as others have said, personal preference comes into it. Some readers really like to have a really defined, clear image painted for them, and others prefer just enough to understand the basics of what's going on.

So, "what's the right balance" is an insanely broad question to ask with no satisfying answer because the answer is and always will be: depends.
 
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TLCsDestiny

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I'm not quite sure, but how does one write with enough description to paint accurate pictures in the reader's mind while not boring them at the same time? I have a guess that I could read some literature and practice writing, but beyond that, are there anymore pieces of advice?
As a reader, I'm with 'tak' ^ here. I don't need to know everything about what someone's wearing and what kind of hairpin. I like to know how they are feeling. I am an offender of skimming through details like that and yes it doesn't matter to me.
As a writer, I try and keep my details generalized or basic, just because of this reason. For instance, I wouldn't go on about what type of dress it is, I would just state a color or if maybe it's an inner or outer layer.
I could be wrong and might not do a good enough job in that department but when it comes to people's feelings, I think I sort of make up for it.
 

Chiisutofupuru

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how does one write with enough description to paint accurate pictures in the reader's mind while not boring them at the same time?
Describe the scene in the active voice? Everything is always doing something.
Better: Describe the scene in the active voice through a character perspective. What stands out to the character? What is the character's impression of the situation?
 

Shaiyamine

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Hmmm mostly I place more detail when setting up a place or add a bit more words so I can set the mood. Then I use a lot less when there is some action going on.

^ thats my general workflow although I'm not sure if it will help.
 

Arexio

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What Arexio said. Just like in film where the director will often use a wide shot to set the scene and location and allow the audience to understand the geography of the new scene, then switch to close shots (especially in dialogue heavy scenes) in order to focus the audience on the characters and actions rather than the location, in writing you would save heavy descriptive prose for new locations within the story to give the reader an understanding of where the characters are located in a scene, and reference to each other, or give the audience a clear picture of the appearance of a new character. An audience who only has to read long descriptive texts once every few chapters as the story moves on to new scenarios/locations/characters will have a higher tolerance for how much description they're willing to read through.

As it was after opening hours, most of the lights of the pub had been turned off, leaving only the flickering glow of the neon sign above the bar to light the room. Chairs and tables had been wiped down and stacked against the far wall, only a few stools remaining for the three men to sit upon, as the fourth stood behind the bar, refilling their tumblers.

It's enough description to understand where the location is (a pub, presumably fairly late at night/early morning if it's after closing), where the characters are positioned within that location (by the bar), how many people are there (four, all men), and roughly what they're doing (three sitting, one serving). It's not a lot of descriptive text, but it should more or less paint not only an image of the scene, but also a mood - dim, gloomy, perhaps secretive if they're meeting in private after hours, yet casual enough that they're drinking together. After that you can focus freely on their discussion, or if there's an action sequence the audience already understands that most of the floor of the bar has been cleared of tables and chairs so there are few obstacles in the fight, if someone suddenly grabs a bottle the audience can infer that it may be the bottle they'd been drinking from, etc.

If you wanna know "how much is too much", I guess, get a load of Tolkein.

ETA: It also depends on genre. Lots of novels don't need involved descriptions of a character's appearance, but for a genre like, say, romance, where most of the story is being driven by the characters and their interactions with and attraction to one another, you'd give more description of their appearances so we understand why Female Lead would be attracted to Male Lead. On the flip side, a horror story might intentionally use less description, or use description that evokes feeling rather solid imagery, because usually the more the audience can project their own fears and paranoia onto the story, the more effective the horror would be.

Or as others have said, personal preference comes into it. Some readers really like to have a really defined, clear image painted for them, and others prefer just enough to understand the basics of what's going on.

So, "what's the right balance" is an insanely broad question to ask with no satisfying answer because the answer is and always will be: depends.
Thanks for sharing @flucket - really liked your analogy and the example. It helped give me some ideas for improving my own writing. :blob_okay:
 

Varno

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This isn't an issue to worry about. Write what you like, realize that you can't, at first. And practice until you enjoy your own writing, as much as you enjoy anyone else's. Writing for me is for myself.
 
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