“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.
“A novel must be exceptionally good to survive as long as the average house cat.” – Lord Chesterfield
What makes a good novel? There are a lot of different answers to this, many of which I’m not sure I could articulate. But of one thing I am sure, a great novel is made up of great scenes. Like a movie production, a novel is almost entirely scenes with some narrative in-between. Before, I use to just write stories. Many of them had way to much narrative. Today, I’m trying to make my novel move like a movie. I jump from exciting scene to exciting scene with just enough narrative between so that it will not be confusing to the reader.
This can be difficult to do. In my opinion, most novels drag on way to long. I opened this one book the other day and the first 4 to 6 pages were about this general going around and waking up sentries whilst he mulled over the landscape and current situation. It was painfully slow, in my opinion. In past books, I have done much the same. But in the novel I am currently editing, I hope to avoid slow moving narrative and scenes. I am not saying a novel should be just like a movie. Movie’s are entirely different animals. A movie can flash from scene to scene whereas a book will need narrative.
What does “narrative” mean, anyway? Often, it means the third-person view narration of events that the writer will use to cover events without diving into them from the characters point of view. I believe narration can also come from the thoughts of the character you are writing through, but don’t quote me on that. Narration can be useful in covering a lot quickly or in dragging a scene on and on. It’s the battle. Do you go into the scene with the character or merely describe the situation away? It’s all about what importance the scene carries in the development of the character and, ultimately, the story.
The Scene is the most important part of the book. It’s what your characters are built in, it’s what your story is made of. Deciding what scenes to go into and getting them right can make the difference between a great plot yet boring book or a decent plot that’s a New York Times best seller. Readers don’t want a narrative monologue. They want to go into and experience the greatest scene’s. Try to avoid scenes that don’t have a conflict of some sort for the character to work through. Whether it be a discussion that turns into a disagreement at a dinner table or a simple morning walk that goes horribly wrong, you should have conflict in each scene. A friendly dinner discussion or a morning walk with nothing out of the ordinary is not what the reader wants to read pages on. Scenes will need to be cut and others added. In the end, if you can give every scene in your story a shot of conflict, suspense, or mystery, I believe readers will find it hard to put your story down.