Descriptions in fiction writing – less is more

Creating a realistic world for your reader can be challenging. Description of the setting and characters can help your reader “see” your world.

Descriptions of setting allow the reader to see where events are taking place. And descriptions of characters allow the reader to see who is involved as well as draw conclusions about the characters. Descriptions should engage the reader, draw him into the story and stir up his curiosity.

The key is to decide how much description your reader needs to see and feel your character’s world.

My writing style is usually light on the descriptions. I prefer for my readers to use their own imagination to build the world and characters. I perhaps do this because I am not a fan of reading pages upon pages of description.

I try to leave out the parts readers skip. ~ American novelist/screenwriter Elmore Leonard

In my case that would be the description.

Now I am not saying you should have NO description in your book. I am just one who like to use it sparingly. A few good choice words can bring vivid images.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~ Russian playwright Anton Chekhov

And this quote is a good reminder that you need to incorporate the senses in your descriptions. Don’t just say how something looks, but includes how it smells, feels, and tastes. (Obviously, those aren’t applicable in every scenario).

A few choice details can do much more than long paragraphs describing the scenery or what the characters are wearing.

I will end this short post with these rules of writing from Elmore Leonard. (At least half of them deal with description.)

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never us a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation point under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never us the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
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