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Thread: How much description needed for sense of place?

  1. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    A lot of times people confuse 'the right effect' with 'the strongest/vividest/most dramatic effect' and that's been a real lesson for me over the last few years.

    Comparing these two examples of the barn: The first is what I would use to describe an object. The second is what I would use to describe a character.

    So...is the barn a character? Maybe. We see this all the time with descriptions of houses, boats, heirlooms and, of course, weather. It's powerful, but it's heavy on the stomach.

    When a story contains too many such descriptions it becomes overwrite.
    That's what I meant by choosing descriptions which fit the writer's style and intent. Some people can pull off 'overwrite,' (though when done well it won't seem like overwrite) but you have to be careful and choose the language and cadence better than I did in my second quick example. In that purplish bit of description I had in mind a situation where the building plays a major part in the hypothetical story, much like Shirley Jackson's, Hill House, or Stephen King's Marsten House from 'Salem's Lot, or the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.

    I've written both ways based on just such decisions, although the first is, by far, more representative of my typical style.

    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    Sair field hinny.

    I guess it is like a description of a person because of the terms like 'strong and robust' which so often describe people. In the dictionary atrophied can be-: (of body tissue or an organ) wasted away or rudimentary.
    "atrophied muscles" ·
    or,
    having lost effectiveness or vigour due to underuse or neglect. (their example is of the economy)
    for example, and 'bowed is so often backs and legs. It is a bit overdone, but that is pretty normal when writing an example.
    LOL. Not my best work, true dat.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

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  2. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    That's what I meant by choosing descriptions which fit the writer's style and intent. Some people can pull off 'overwrite,' (though when done well it won't seem like overwrite) but you have to be careful and choose the language and cadence better than I did in my second quick example. In that purplish bit of description I had in mind a situation where the building plays a major part in the hypothetical story, much like Shirley Jackson's, Hill House, or Stephen King's Marsten House from 'Salem's Lot, or the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.

    I've written both ways based on just such decisions, although the first is, by far, more representative of my typical style.
    Mmhmm. I think it would be interesting to try to figure out broad rules for which approach to use and when in a case where maybe it's a gray area between the object in question not filling the brief of 'Hell House major' but potentially being fertile ground for a good bit of description?

    Admittedly I file this under Instinct & Competency but I can't really speak to the mental process behind deciding 'Ok, there is a barn and it's kind of important to setting the scene...how should I describe the said barn and to what level of intricacy?" and it makes sense there should be one because it's a fairly easy decision to make in context. It just usually entails trial and error which is always nice to avoid!

    Do you have any insight as to what process, if any, you use to make these decisions or is it a gut thing?
    Last edited by luckyscars; May 30th, 2019 at 05:10 PM.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  3. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Mmhmm. I think it would be interesting to try to figure out broad rules for which approach to use and when in a case where maybe it's a gray area between the object in question not filling the brief of 'Hell House major' but potentially being fertile ground for a good bit of description?

    Admittedly I file this under Instinct & Competency but I can't really speak to the mental process behind deciding 'Ok, there is a barn and it's kind of important to setting the scene...how should I describe the said barn and to what level of intricacy?" and it makes sense there should be one because it's a fairly easy decision to make in context. It just usually entails trial and error which is always nice to avoid!

    Do you have any insight as to what process, if any, you use to make these decisions?
    Good question. There are certain types of stories where the 'environment' of the story is as important as any character. Such is the case in the books I mentioned by Jackson and King. In those cases a writer can justify expending more energy and words on description than they would when just establishing a setting. Although I'd add a caveat to that when you can use a character's perception of a place to show emotion and mind-set. For instance, a person might walk into a perfectly normal room and have something like the wallpaper, or the lighting, or a particular knick-knack, stir an emotional response based on their backstory. The reader doesn't necessarily need the backstory -- maybe they do, it depends on the story -- but just the character's reaction to a dim over-head light fixture, or that print hanging on the wall of Jesus knocking at a door, can develop the character. In that case a bit of selective embellishment can be justified.

    In my first novel, the setting, a cave, functioned as a mute character so I spent a lot of time establishing what a wild (non-commercialized) cave is like to explore. I guess my general rule for description in cases where the setting isn't as integral to the story is to try and determine what details I would pick-up on if I were there. What would stand out to me, and what words can I use to convey that as vividly and concisely as possible.

    I write horror and thrillers so I'm constantly looking for ways to build suspense, or show a character's state of mind with as much impact as possible. It's easy to over-do that if I'm not careful, but creating that balance is where "Instinct and Competency" come in. Although I think instinct is helped greatly by reading widely in your chosen genre. The good stuff tends to stick around in the moldy (or mouldy for our friends across the pond) corners of my brain.

    I'm not sure I clarified anything, but I hope so.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  4. #14
    I struggle describing places I don't know. However I am going to model from novels to see how much concrete detail is needed and how to imitate the structure of the sentences.

    One advice suggested I read newspaper articles on settings. For example read about town hall tragedies or crimes in the newspaper ( to describe a zoo you need a headline among many that you can find). Maybe then you can pick up something from the description in the article. I've read floor plans can be important for a house for instance. This is admittingly research.

    I bought a poetry book. I've read depending for example the career of the person or what happened ( the past of the character) you can write with more emotion and tone the settings. In 1st person there are benefits to this. In that emotion is easier to convey in setting. In 3rd person you need to work harder for the setting to make sense. Poetry is my solution to this since I have read from numerous places that any poetry you learn can be applied to fiction.

    Encyclopedias sometimes help. I don't have a library nearby. I have to use the internet.

    But I think Terry d said something that helps. Which is the perception of a character. It changes how they see trees like a soldier, a zookeeper, a archaeologist. You can write in many different styles and tones. There's this book that mentions 99 ways to rewrite a scene.

    The problem I have is location of the concrete detail. So imitating the writer is my best bet. If I open a novel I could copy and note how they did it. Then I can try with my own way using what I read as a blueprint. That is my approach since I read it somewhere.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  5. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    Good question. There are certain types of stories where the 'environment' of the story is as important as any character. Such is the case in the books I mentioned by Jackson and King. In those cases a writer can justify expending more energy and words on description than they would when just establishing a setting. Although I'd add a caveat to that when you can use a character's perception of a place to show emotion and mind-set. For instance, a person might walk into a perfectly normal room and have something like the wallpaper, or the lighting, or a particular knick-knack, stir an emotional response based on their backstory. The reader doesn't necessarily need the backstory -- maybe they do, it depends on the story -- but just the character's reaction to a dim over-head light fixture, or that print hanging on the wall of Jesus knocking at a door, can develop the character. In that case a bit of selective embellishment can be justified.

    In my first novel, the setting, a cave, functioned as a mute character so I spent a lot of time establishing what a wild (non-commercialized) cave is like to explore. I guess my general rule for description in cases where the setting isn't as integral to the story is to try and determine what details I would pick-up on if I were there. What would stand out to me, and what words can I use to convey that as vividly and concisely as possible.

    I write horror and thrillers so I'm constantly looking for ways to build suspense, or show a character's state of mind with as much impact as possible. It's easy to over-do that if I'm not careful, but creating that balance is where "Instinct and Competency" come in. Although I think instinct is helped greatly by reading widely in your chosen genre. The good stuff tends to stick around in the moldy (or mouldy for our friends across the pond) corners of my brain.

    I'm not sure I clarified anything, but I hope so.
    It’s funny because in practice I often find the choice as to what to describe or not almost becomes random. I loathe to attribute anything in writing to random, but if I consider my MC going through a box of basement bric-a-brac for example how much depth I give to the objects he/she uncovers will totally depend on how much attention I imagine her character giving each item, what observations or associations if any I imagine she might have, and in this way the decision is made. Some might argue it’s not random because it’s character based but it still is essentially down to luck of the draw because there’s not necessarily any reason for her to fixate on, say, a doll with a smashed face and not an old diary. Just like in real life when we look out a window what we notice and fixate on isn’t usually for any rational reason either.

    Of course I would never approach all my descriptions like that, but a lot of time they just kind of fall in a certain way based on the imagined POV.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  6. #16
    WF Veteran Bloggsworth's Avatar
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    It rather depends on how well you do it...
    A man in possession of a wooden spoon must be in want of a pot to stir.

  7. #17
    I believe it comes down to personal preference. I find that slowly building the location around the speech and action within any given scene. This is mostly for when I write sci-fi and try to get a particular feel of the atmosphere. There isn't anything saying that you can't have a parapgraph or two detailing the location, but it kind of stops the pace of the story for just description. I'd say try a mishmash of including details that give us an idea of what you're going for while inplementing single lines of description with the duality of action/dialogue. Then try a full paragraph instead and see which one you think reads easier and sets more of an image in your head.

  8. #18
    "She said that an English teacher once told her to write the story that needed to be told--no more and no less than what needed to be told. Well, she phrased it better. In other words, let the story determine the amount of description that is appropriate."

    This was advice you should follow.

    I write as verbose as I please, and enjoy taking random segues to illustrate characters. Often I cheat by describing the scene through the eyes of the characters, so it does double duty (for half the words I get a description, and insight into the character's mind about those same things.) I do not flinch at adding another page to a scene.

    It is easier to trim the fat than add missing elements.

    Superfluous stuff is very easy to prune...but going back and adding something like character development is akin to stuffing a V8 in a Pinto.

    Writing fat is better than writing lean.

  9. #19
    I mean, you'll find out for sure when you get beta readers and they will tell you "this scene is in a white room," and, "what does this look like," if you aren't using enough for them. Or they might say, "this reads too slowly, too much description." And then you'll decide if you agree or not.

    Almost no one knows if they are hitting the mark or not. You just got to play it by ear.

  10. #20
    I know this topic is dead but I must say that as a reader my experience with reading extensive details that elaborate on setting and place seem to slow down the story and loses my interest if drawn out too extensively.

    I now see choosing how detailed I should make my scenes depends upon what pacing I want the story to move at. More focus on setting and place can help an action filled thriller breath, giving the reader some time to absorb all the previous sequences if they are crammed with action and plot changing dynamics.

    If you are writing a novel that moves slowly and is filled with more reflective memoir-like reminiscing then an extensive poetic scene and setting build up might serve that dormant mood.

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