My characters and stories are incredibly visual to me. When the writing is flowing I can see the story in my mind and part of my job is to transcribe those images into the ethereal nature of words. Finding the right amount of description is a challenge for me. Often, my brother’s biggest complaints about my writing are him wanting more description.
However, I tend to err on the side of caution and begin by under-describing rather being too detailed. These days readers don’t want pages upon pages of minutes details; some writers can get away with it. Most cannot – and so I try to balance my own images with the needs of my readers. Part of the reason I write is so that my world can come alive through sharing it with others.
One difficult piece of description for me is the spatial aspect of it. When describing a room – where are the things in the room in relation to one another? Where are the people in relation to the things and each other?
For example, I love old houses with parlors. So how does that look to my mind? Or yours?
The parlor felt rich done in earth tones. A fireplace stood on the far wall away from the door; flames danced merrily within its confines. In front of the fireplace sat two comfy chairs with a table in between. Nearby the large picturesque window was a couch. Across the room from the couch was a large antique wooden desk with a hardback chair; the desk top had clutter of papers and books.
This is a rather rough description. Considering I did it kind of on the fly it isn’t too bad, but it still feels a bit stiff. What if we added in some people?
Miss Andrews walked into the parlor and sat on the cream couch near the large window. Mr. Saunders greeted her from the desk across the room; she returned his greeting. However, she did not wish to chat and instead took in the room. She enjoyed the view of the fire as it danced merrily within the fireplace. Her sister sat in one of the chairs in front of the fire, but didn’t say anything. Miss Andrews walked over to her and they chatted quietly as Mr. Saunders cleared the clutter away from his desk.
I like this better; it feels a little less stiff now that there are people populating the room. However, it still doesn’t feel to me like it has come alive. Perhaps adding in a bit of Miss Andrews’ emotions will help to set the scene.
Wiping away tears, Miss Andrews entered the parlor. She walked past the desk and Mr. Saunders greeted her; she returned the favor. Mr. Saunders not noticing her distress continued to clear the clutter away from his desk. Not wishing to speak she walked over to the cream couch and perched upon it. From there she enjoyed the view of the fire – it danced merrily. Her sister sat in one of the comfortable chairs before the fire; she turned and asked after Miss Andrews’ day. Miss Andrews walked over to her sister and whispered her discontent.
Of the three descriptions, I think the last one is the richest. It has layers of things, people, and emotions. I could probably stand to go over it again and throw in brief physical descriptions of Mr. Saunders, Miss Andrews and her sister. However, I tend to prefer not to give too much description of my characters. People tend to imagine them how they want even when description is provided.
How do you handle descriptions when you write? Does it take multiple drafts for you to get your vision across? I think my final description could still use some work. What would you add? Or take away?
©K. Klein 2012