Description Is A Dish Best Served…

During the second leg of my writing journey, I used to get slammed a lot for not including enough description in my stories. Back then I was skimpy on the description. White walls, bare floor, and maybe a piece of furniture skimpy. I write more description into my stories now, but still not a whole lot.

One reason is because I don’t like to read a lot of description. I have a decent imagination so don’t need a lot to ‘see’ what’s going on. Give me the basics and I’m good. Also, too much detail slows the flow of the story for me. Pulls me right out of the story.

Another reason is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The book was required reading in my high school English Lit class. Now, I liked the plot (I wanted Jane and Edward to get their freak on), but not all the description. My strongest memory of the book is a paragraph, a half page paragraph dedicated to describing a chair.

The other reason the description in my stories is not full bodied is because it’s a goal of mine to have a reader do more than just read my story. I want the reader to play a more active role in my story. To have some ownership of the story. I want my readers to not just be effected by my story, but to affect it.

To make this happen, I use what I call buffet style description. I provide a general (not generic) set up, basic description (the plate) to the reader, who will fill her plate with the various foods on the buffet according to her experiences, memories and preferences. 

So how do you serve your description?   How do you like your description served?



Filed under Kimberly, writing

7 responses to “Description Is A Dish Best Served…

  1. Inez Kelley

    I think description is one of my strengths. Like you, I don’t want to pend half a chapter talking about the furniture unless it is somehow vital to the plot. ho cares most of the time? (Sorry Anne Rice)

    I really try to have the part of the scene described enhance the story, like showing a somber sky to help depict a mood change or the yeasty smell of a bakery to foster welcome imagery.

    There have been times when in a discussion group, I am left scratching my head. Two examples most recently:
    One- “What color was the chair?” Who gives a flying fart? His butt hit it and that was it. It was not pertinent to the story except it gave him a place to sit. Big deal.

    Two: “What brand of purse does she carry?”
    Whaaaaa? Again, who cares? The story was not about shopping nor accessories nor even about style. The purse was mentioned in passing. As in ‘she grabbed her pure and flew out the door’. Get a grip people.

    I think many people like to be handed your buffet plate and shown where to go and others want you to cut their food up and feed them. You have to write at a level that works for you.

    After all, you can lead a horse to water but you can not make her THINK!

  2. Inez Kelley

    The above typos are brought to you buy a lack of coffee and limited sleep. This has been a public service announcement. Excuse me while I go bash my head against a wall.

  3. talesfromthecrit

    LOL Inez. I’ve been bashed for not enough description too, Kim. And I usually handle it…well, I handle it by ignoring people. I love the buffet analogy. It’s perfect. Especially told me to put in more description about the theater in ATD which I wasn’t going to do. I like a generic environment. It could be anywhere. It could be your house. It could be the little theater down the street from your house.

    I’m sorry but if I have the choice of describing like Stephen King (please kill me now) or not giving any at all, I’m going to chose white walls, bare minimum of furniture etc.


  4. I’m like you, I don’t need a lot of description while reading and don’t normally put a lot in, but I have gotten better about white rooms and talking heads.

  5. I like my description served minimal – tell me something’s there, let me picture it myself…unless the item or person being described is relevant in some way, at which point I want a description that will give me a little more meat, that will stick in my memory so when I see the “Hey, remember that chair?” cue later on I’ll make the connection.

  6. Interesting topic. As a reader, I prefer to use my imagination a bit. I don’t want every picky detail thrown at my feet.

  7. jodi

    good way to put it. I’ve never read Jane Eyre. I have this thing about required reading. (am I the only one who’s never read Pride and Prejudice?) But I did see the movie…that was the one with Marlon Brando running around screaming, “Stella!!” right??

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