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Being Discriptive? Should it be long or short? (1 Viewer)

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gdaly7

Senior Member
So many author's I have read have a really ability to create such vivid descriptions in just one or two sentences. When I describe something I can go on and on. Should I keep it short a sweet? Or should I keep it longer. I also allways compare it to other things, like "It was a color she would have never picked for a house", or like "Alex had curly blonde hair the color of Dru’s, and well everyone on her father’s side. But his was a little darker, because of his mother." Is that too long of a way to say "He had Curly Blonde hair".


So I guess what i'm trying to say,
  1. Should I keep my descriptions short, or is it ok and just my style to keep them long?
  2. Should I practice trying to say more in one sentence?
 

NikkiR

Senior Member
I try to keep mine concise, so it portrays the scene but still gets the information across. The main thing you need to do is show your story in the writing. If you do this then a lot of the description may not be necessary.
With that in mind, as you have pointed out, you have to keep to your style; and to me, as long as it fits the writing, then it doesn't matter.
Of you two examples, I like the first because its quirky; comparing hair colour to house colours. I also like the second one because it shows the link to her mother's side. If anything on that example I would cut out the , 'and well everyone on her father's side' because unless there in the story, do you need that information. Maybe only raise that if there was a gathering; i.e. (also typed very quickly and not truly thought through) 'If ever in doubt, when Alex walked into the room, the sea of blonde proved he was a member of his father's family....' this is very visual for the reader, they can picture a room full of blonde haired people.
Hope this helps.
 

Bilston Blue

WF Veterans
I think the number of words you use on description will be in one way determined by your medium. The novel has far more scope to allow more descriptive passages than the short story, and for flash fiction you can pretty much forget it, though a word or two mightn't hurt. Still further, some readers will skip past passages of description, or may even avoid reading authors who are known for it. It's a cliche but, write your story how you feel it needs to be written. If description is your thing then be descriptive. There are no rules, and if there were then they'd be there to be broken.

I love describing scenes in my short stories, but over the couple of years I've practiced the art of the short I hope I've developed the knack of painting vivid pictures with a few strong words.
 
I like short. I remember reading this book once where it took two or three paragraphs just to describe a dude's jaw exploding from a sword slash, by the end I was like, "Alright, I get it, the dude's jaw is gone... it's not that cool." Anyway, more often than not short seems better, but then some people like drawn out explanations. I guess sometimes it works better one way, other times it works better another.
 

Mathias Cavanaugh

Senior Member
You have to do whatever works for the story. IF you can describe what is happening in a sentence or two then I firmly believe you should especially if you are limited by your number of words. IF you need more space then you must use it.

A lot of time you have to consider the story you are writing. If you are writing a story set in San Francisco in the fall it is a lot easier to be short. But if you are writing some sort of high fantasy set in a unique world with fantastic creatures it gets harder to do this. In fact, in the later, I always expect lo

Really though I think it is more about flow than how many words you use. I have read stories where the author took two or more whole pages to describe a scene and it worked because every word flowed into the next. I have read stories where the author took one sentence to describe a character and half way through the book I was still wondering what exactly the character looked like or the author said something in chapter 20 that further described an attribute of the character and I was like, whoa, having never gotten that from the previous, short description. And visa versa on both counts as well. I have read long descriptions that just droned on. I have read short descriptions that were so vivid they worked.
 

Lillypop

Senior Member
Ya gotta know when enough is enough and how to not over-do something. It's really a form of judgement imo. However I think shorter is always better so #2: practice putting more in one sentence. :)
 

Bruce Wayne

Senior Member
I find that it depends on what genre you are writing. For example if i read a fantasy or paranormal/horror story, long descrptions of surroundings or people work well. But if the description upsets the flow of the story, like it can do in fast paced thrillers and action stories, then it is best to shorten them a bit in my opinion. But of course there are always exceptions.
 

SeverinR

Senior Member
I think it depends on what your describing.
When I read I read the basic description, if it is too long I skip ahead.

But if your describing something that not everyone has seen, it will need to be longer.
I felt "dragon adoring" was long and drawn out, but people that read it said it was good or needed to be longer.
It is 460 words of describing a sleeping dragonet by the elf that loves her.
If I described the dragon with little or no ties into the story, I think it wuold be to large. But seeing the dragon through the MC's eyes makes it work.
So long or short it depends on how it works in the story.
 

XenaLin

Senior Member
It depends on what you're describing as well as what type of genre you write, at least for me. I mean some old English authors such as Jane Austen etc has a very long way of describing something. I can't remember which book it is, but it took like 1-2 pages before her description was done of an environment.
 

Hawke

Patron
Patron
About a person: As short as possible, unless he/she has some feature pertinent to the story.

About the surroundings: Make it as long or as short as needs be to put the reader in the scene. Also, scattering descriptions between dialogue and in the dialogue tags will stop the big blocks of boring description.

It also depends on whether this is a novel, novella or flash. If you only have 500 words to play with, you can't use half of them for description.
 

BobbyKing

Senior Member
I like short. I remember reading this book once where it took two or three paragraphs just to describe a dude's jaw exploding from a sword slash, by the end I was like, "Alright, I get it, the dude's jaw is gone... it's not that cool." Anyway, more often than not short seems better, but then some people like drawn out explanations. I guess sometimes it works better one way, other times it works better another.

Ya, I'd come across that reaction too... Admittedly, I find it exhaustive though I like to assume there are readers out there who love such lengthy approach but I am certainly not one of them.

Being descriptive and when to and not to, in my opinion, is a skill that we improve over time; lots & lots of reading and lots & lots of writing.
If a particular scene needed stronger description to bring the story to the next level, by all means do it.
I find strong descriptive appropriate at the start of a new chapter or scene, where readers need a little more understanding about the background, place, etc.
 

Lord Darkstorm

Senior Member
When it comes to description, you really need to think about what needs to be described. If a character walks into a room, sets their bag on a table and walks on, does it matter what color the table is? Or if it's work, metal, plastic? Unless the table has some significance to the story, saying it is a table is all you need. This lets the reader fill in what the table looks like from their own mind, and in essence, you let the reader own a bit of your story. It is a very insignificant bit, but when you think about the thousands of bits that happen along the story, that adds up to quite a bit. Now, if someone is going to put an knife into the table later on, it probably should be a type that can have a knife put in it, and that would probably warrant a descriptive word to denote it is wood, or plastic, ect.

I read a series of books by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, the obsidian trilogy if anyone is interested, and I loved the story. The one part that drove me insane was the detailed description of everything elven. While there was a point to it, and I understood that they were showing the level of detail the elves had in their lives, at times it did get old. I tended to skim the clothing descriptions quite often. Some of the details were pretty pointless in my view, since once the description was over very little of it ever had any relevance to the story beyond reenforcing the elven mind set.

I am of the opinion you describe what is needed, and expand where there is a need, and try and get the description to enhance the story without taking it over. Also remember that description parceled out while the story is moving won't be excessive usually. Tying descriptions to the story is a good use of it. Sitting down at a worn out kitchen table that the character grew up sitting at, can have some reflection from the reader, which can then allow for other things like brief thoughts of the past, or sometimes a flashback. I do feel flashbacks should be used wisely.

One last note on description, remember that we have more than sight for experiencing our environment. Feeling the dents in the old wood table (no idea why I picked a table) is sometimes better than seeing them. Smells, textures, small background sounds, can also be used to set a scene without delving into paragraphs of details. It takes some practice, and I still have to remind myself not to forget to vary the sense I use while writing.
 

SeverinR

Senior Member
I read a series of books by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, the obsidian trilogy if anyone is interested, and I loved the story. The one part that drove me insane was the detailed description of everything elven. While there was a point to it, and I understood that they were showing the level of detail the elves had in their lives, at times it did get old. I tended to skim the clothing descriptions quite often. Some of the details were pretty pointless in my view, since once the description was over very little of it ever had any relevance to the story beyond reenforcing the elven mind set.

.
I am reading her book, owl___ (something). She tends to go on and on about the elves. She is the one that taught me to skim through descriptions.
"its a ornate room, I get it, now lets move on."
I love her books, read many, but;

Just finished reading Foundation, interesting group of linked short stories but it breaks all the rules. No major plot finished at the end. Plot that ends the story begun in the last chapter. Definately not the read to learn the rules on. All major plot points left open. Great mc, interesting reading, just no ending. Halfway through thelast chapter, I was like, there is no way this book can end properly.
 

LuisCypher

Senior Member
I like to keep mine short, especially for characters. "He had curly blonde hair" is good. "His ash blonde hair curled over his head like an angry sea" might be a bit better. I do try to avoid giving descriptions that require the reader to make reference to an earlier part of the story. It annoys me and i'm sure I'm not the only one.
 

Robdemanc

Senior Member
I hate being descriptive so keep it short. I have avoided describing my character appearences and when I wrote a detailed description of the place they live I cringed after reading it back.
 
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