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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

Describing Description

There are three components to a novel: description, action, and dialogue. Tutoring websites for aspiring authors differ regarding a proper balance for the three. A couple of novels I have recently read prompt some comments on the description constituent.

Here is an example of erratum prompting my reflection. “Josie stood at the door poised to knock. She had abandoned her normal highbrow attire for ragtag street duds. Her tie-dyed shirt consisting of fourteen or more colors topped a pair of spanking new jeans that were ripped in at least twenty-three locations and partially bleached to the point of color non-recognition. Aged sneakers sported an appropriate amount of duct tape. She eyed the time-worn door with peeling paint – more color non-recognition – and a peephole covered with cobwebs. The guilty light-brown spider sat on a hinge that looked to be from the 18th century. To call the carpet beneath her feet threadbare would be a compliment. Some undiscernible pattern had been obliterated by grime, refuse, and the treading upon of uncountable thousands. . . . etc.”

If the location described above plays an important part in the storyline, perhaps the descriptive hyperbole is warranted. As it stands, the above paragraph is a minor-to-nonessential scene in the novel. The function of the descriptive verbosity seems to be just to fill space and/or illustrate the author’s vivid imagination. When this happens over and over in a novel, it contributes little to the story and makes it drag.

As a rule, economy of words beats pleonasm . . . brevity trumps wordiness. The important question: Does what I include on any given page add to the story or detract from it? Too often, over-abundant and unnecessary description tires the reader and depreciates the overall value of the read.

If character development and/or a given scene warrants vivid portrayal, then do it with passion . . . but not with passionate abandon. If an error is to be made, by my lights it should be on the side of less rather than more.

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