“We are all apprentices in a craft that no one ever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway
Descriptive writing. That and character dialogue make up most of a novel. I personally abhor books that drag on and on and on with descriptions. Others might enjoy the lengths authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien go to set a scene, but I tend to strive for a quick action, movie like approach to writing. Sometimes I find myself feeling smug in the fact that if my book has any problem, its briefness, not excessive descriptions. However, have I taken my intent to be more brief too far?
You need a perfect blend of descriptiveness to make a scene (and novel) work. In some areas you will need to cut or revise descriptions. In others, you will need to add. Below are some ideas for revising, cutting, or adding descriptions.
Idea #1: Let your characters “describe” during their dialogue. Let them discuss what it is you are trying to get your reader to envision.
Idea #2: Most of the time, less is more. Try to keep this in mind. It’s hard to not have enough description. Oftentimes, your (intelligent) reader will fill in any gaps you leave with their imagination. This is typically a good thing. Give a framework, but allow your readers individual and unique imagination to create the rest of the scene.
Idea #3: Sprinkle descriptions. You might want to cut that huge paragraph (or paragraphs) you have setting the scene and spread the description through the scene as your character interacts with it.
Idea 4#: Ensure your descriptions add to the story and move it forward. Don’t add description for it’s own sake. Sometime it’s tempting to describe things that are relatively irrelevant to the story. Don’t do that. Even if you have a great description of a character but that character doesn’t really play a role in the story, leave it out. Only describe what you must.
I love great descriptions. They really add to a story. But remember, when it comes to descriptions, quality is better than quantity.
Want to fine tune that manuscript you’ve had sitting around? Think three steps.
Step 1: Edit
Step 2: Edit
Step 3: and… Edit again
Seriously, I am finding out that getting a novel ready for publishing requires almost just as much editing as writing. I think I heard somewhere that a novel is 10% planning, 50% writing, and 40% editing. It took me two years from start to finish to complete the first draft of my book. Will it take almost two years to edit it? Probably not, though it seems like it. I was balancing high school and college work over those two years I was writing. Today, I am able to spend much more time editing so it won’t actually take me too long to edit. However, I’m about two months into the process and there is still a lot to do. I have at least a few more weeks worth of editing.
I should clarify that any plan you have for editing shouldn’t be as simple as I stated above, obviously. I was simply ranting about the enormous task of editing a manuscript without hiring a professional. And yes, I hope to do most of the editing myself. It is way too expensive to higher a professional. I sent in my first chapter to a professional editing company to received a sample edit. The sample edit came back and they wanted me to give them the go ahead to finish editing chapter one… for 80 dollars. With 27 chapters in my manuscript, it would be over two thousand dollars for a professional edit at that rate. Sure, they probably have a quantity discount, but still. They even claimed to have some of the lowest rates. Scary.
As I am discovering, editing should entail some steps. You should have order; a plan of action. Basically you should begin with general content editing. Plot holes, additional or deleted scenes, character voice… etc. That should come before grammatical edits. I was doing both (content and grammatical editing) at the same time and ended up throwing out three chapters, adding four, and rewriting another. I then had to go back and edit those new chapters. Lesson learned? Save grammatical editing for the final stages. If you are looking at your manuscript with a truly critical eye there should be plenty of content editing to keep you busy.