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Not Getting Carried Away with Descriptions

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Thu Jan 27, 2011 11:21 am
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MiaParamore says...

Hey there. All most all the work of mine that I've posted here has got more or the same remarks-it was too much of a description. So I just got myself to research on this topic-'description'. Before you read this, please note down these two things:

1) Every person has a different writing style. You might be a lover for descriptions, like me, or might be too afraid of them. What you need to do in such case is self-assess. Read your stuff. Think normally, come out of your writer's zone, and read like a reader. Are these descriptions too much or too less?

2) If you've assessed yourself, then here's something else. Every reader has a different choice. Just like in a family, not every person would like chocolate cake(and they'd be nuts if they won't), similarly, not every reader has taste for brilliant description. So it's not important for them to like your work. Here comes the difference in opinion.

Conclusion:That's what I do. If this problem, like some description problem or plot problem is raised by two-three, I'd think about it, but not change it against my will. But, if there are many people telling you some problem, then it's time for you to definitely change, because here not so many of them would have difference in opinion.

Now, some tips on how to ADD and AVOID loads of description.

1-Love your descriptions-be sure of them. Not until you love your work, your characters, should you expect others to love them. If you're not sure of any description, then shun with it. Cut it out. Bring in something else to replace it, or maybe drop down the idea of having one.

2-Don't take a risk:If you're not good at going too much with imagery and wonderful descriptions, then don't do it. But that doesn't mean your readers would have to wander by themselves, searching their way around. For example, if you suck at descriptions, on how to make your characters look, then don't do it. Instead, to portray your character's personality, tell us how they speak, and how they move about. Like, for a character who is too cool to handle, then add how they're constantly doing something cool. Look at this(not the best example):
"What's up, man?" Claire mouthed, a smirk running across her lips. I stood there abashed, for she meant otherwise. Her bubblegum changed into a balloon, and seconds later it burst, too, just like my pride had minutes ago.

3-Forget about small things. For me, the wrist band the girl is wearing is pointless for description until or unless it's a secret passageway for dragons to enter this world, or it's going to get lost. The main point I have here is that please don't bore your readers by bringing in things that won't be of any significance to the plot.
>Describing the character's dress is cool, and even the band's color would be fine only if it's to carve out the character's personality, or it's sometimes you do it. Don't make it a habit. It can drive your character nuts.
>For me the other exception can be when you're creating a novel for a mass public about some other society which they might not be knowing about. So, in that case, it's okay if you even go on telling us the exact color of what the person's purse looked like, or how their cloth draped around their body.

4-Be your readers' friends. Now what is unfair is to lead them to a secret fantasy world, which is your own imagination but abandon them right there. Don't forget to answer their queries. Like what kind of the world it is. Does it give pleasure to the heart or instigates fear. Never let them wonder how it would be like to be there in person-hold their hands and take them there.
For example, there was a work I read a fantasy work here where the characters end up in a place where there are many doors. The thought in itself excited me, but she just abandoned me there. I kept on wondering how the doors must be looking like. Or how the place seemed like.
So be fair to your readers. Love them, too.
Now how to do it. Sometimes you might miss out on some things while writing, but later on while reading you might yourself wonder about something. It might seem totally hard to get across and edit up the piece, so take precautions. Write down your questions or some common questions about a particular character or setting a reader can have. Then step by step, whenever possible go and explain each of them. You're the lock and you're the key to all the answers a reader could have.

5-Observation is your friend, my dear. Observe everything around you. Those aunties on the street, or the children with peculiar habits. I read somewhere that a boy used to observe each thing children used to do, and then would come back and type it on his laptop. This way his memory sharpened, and so did his describing skills. If you find some description your mind made up that moment hilarious or nice, then don't waste your time, and write it down. Like Sherlock Holmes's complaint to Dr. Watson. 'You see, but you don't observe.' Observing is a conscious act, a job, a course of study." Very true. So how do you embark on that course of study?
Go on, notice how people talk, how their mouth curves while they talk(don't get creepy :smt003 ). How they play with something, like hair, when they're talking to you. Keep on observing. It'd do wonders. Maybe an interesting person you met can be your muse-jot down everything you liked 'bout them and whatever that troubled you. It's sometimes funny how things would end up.

6-Adjectives. Personally, I used to look in dictionaries and try to find new words(adjectives mainly) to suit my characters or any situation I was going to write about. And there it was-my whole story seemed a dictionary of adjectives. I read somewhere someone used the word 'adjectivitus'. It's not a word but that's how they described it-"using adjectives like chocolates." You should have a perfect balance between what you'd use and how you would use it. Now when I have to read stuff with too much of adjectives, my head starts swarming. I am no longer able to concentrate on the story, but on whether I know this word or not. Also, constantly referring to a dictionary might stop your readers' flow. So in cases like these keep your story well spaced. Don't clatter too heavy words in one go, or make one part completely devoid of fresh words. For example, the following sentence would seem tiring:
Her shiny emerald eyes seemed like a silver mirror, with rectilinear rays transcending their way out of them.

7-Oh, and don't go to the thesaurus too often. Yes, I know, sometimes you need another word for "walked". And I did that, too. But this would give your writing an unrealistic word. If there are some words precious to you, then cling to them tightly and use them. But don't let your readers know of this obsession. What I try to do is avoiding same words without any space. Maybe a word like 'trudged' if once used by me, might not reappear even once in the whole chapter. But it might become another word in my next chapter or a chapter after it. There was a writer here who had problem with repetition. So just chuck out and replace same words with something else.
On how to carve your character: It's very important that your readers don't get confused between your characters, and every character can be distinguished from the other. They might have something positive or negative about them. Just carve them out.
Spoiler! :
Character Profile Worksheet

Basic Statistics

Socioeconomic Level as a child:
Socioeconomic Level as an adult:
Current Residence:
Relationship skills:

Physical Characteristics:

Eye Color:
Hair Color:
Glasses or contact lenses?
Skin color:
Shape of Face:
Distinguishing features:
How does he/she dress?
Habits: (smoking, drinking etc.)
Favorite Sayings:
Speech patterns:
Style (Elegant, shabby etc.):
Greatest flaw:
Best quality:

Intellectual/Mental/Personality Attributes and Attitudes

Educational Background:
Intelligence Level:
Any Mental Illnesses?
Learning Experiences:
Character's short-term goals in life:
Character's long-term goals in life:
How does Character see himself/herself?
How does Character believe he/she is perceived by others?
How self-confident is the character?
Does the character seem ruled by emotion or logic or some combination thereof?
What would most embarass this character?

Emotional Characteristics
Introvert or Extrovert?
How does the character deal with anger?
With sadness?
With conflict?
With change?
With loss?
What does the character want out of life?
What would the character like to change in his/her life?
What motivates this character?
What frightens this character?
What makes this character happy?
Is the character judgmental of others?
Is the character generous or stingy?
Is the character generally polite or rude?
Does the character believe in God?

How the Character is Involved in the Story

Character's role in the novel (main character? hero? heroine? Romantic interest? etc.):
Scene where character first appears:
Relationships with other characters:

1. Character's Name: -- (Describe relationship with this character and changes to relationship over the course of the novel).
2. Character's Name: -- (Describe relationship with this character and changes to relationship over the course of the novel).
3. Character's Name: -- (Describe relationship with this character and changes to relationship over the course of the novel).
4. Character's Name: -- (Describe relationship with this character and changes to relationship over the course of the novel).
Take from here. I have altered somethings, or deleted them from here so you'd go here for the full preview.

8-Motion comes in description.Register this in your mind. You can't, in any case consider only descriptions of the setting or the characters as part of your description. All description and no motion makes your novel dull to read. Everything can be there. Even how your motion is described, the sound a character makes while walking, whether their walk is lazy or confident. Motion. Don't forget it.
Secondly, you need to create a character profile, like forms and fill it before introducing every character. This would help you avoid any confusion later on.

9- Last but not the least- Use your five senses. Bring them to effect. Ask yourself questions while you write. Here's the magic-you'd ask yourself and answer it even yourselves.
Now here's a scene and how different sense organs can help you out with this.
SCENE: A murder scene of your sister.
Eyes-what you see? "In front of me lay a crimson-red Sabrina, swimming in pool of blood. Her eyes sparkled like diamonds, lifeless they seemed though.
Ears:Even though I had not seen her being slaughtered, my mind brought me the sounds of her shrieks and cries to protect herself."
Skin:The cold breeze, containing her blood particles hit my skin, ruffling it for consolation for what I had lost today."
Nose:"Her blood. In turn my blood. God, it was reek. The smell wafted into my nostrils, and immediately made me shut down my smelling system."
Taste:In such a scene you don't have scope of saying anything about the taste. But your character can imagine licking her body or tasting the blood. Believe me, such thoughts come into my mind. Like tasting something weird. Not blood. I ain't vampire. :pirate3:

Hope this helps. It's my first time writing, and I hope I was thorough, and as and when I get more tips, I'll try adding it. PM me or post on my wall for any feedback/queries

Last edited by MiaParamore on Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Next time you point a finger
I might have to bend it back
Or break it, break it off
Next time you point a finger
I'll point you to the mirror"

— Paramore

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Tue Feb 01, 2011 6:01 pm
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LookUpThere says...

Great list!

Although, I'd like to say that you could always couple your smell and taste... just to make it creepier or more descriptive.

Have a biscuit, Potter.
— Professor McGonagall