Description — Too Much or Too Little?

The amount of description used varies from story to story, from author to author. To an extent it’s a matter of preference for the reader. Some readers may prefer writing packed with description, others may prefer bare bones.

I’ve always preferred writing with minimal description. There are, however, exceptions to the rule. Some writers do the description so well that it is a pleasure to hear the poetry of it.

The problem with too much description is that the reader can lose focus on the story. At a certain point–and particularly with boring description–you can lose the reader completely. I find that the best writing usually has only a sentence or two for each scene, each new character introduced, or each event of some significance within a scene.

The amount of description depends on the type of story and whether there are characters together where they can exchange dialogue. A story about a boy lost in space will of course have a great deal more description than a political drama.

Some writers seem to not understand, or not trust, how the reader’s mind works. A reader will take the description provided and fill in the rest of the details. Just give me something unique about a character, something that makes them a little bit strange. Tell me about something vibrant in the landscape. You do not need to paint the entire picture. A few vivid images is all you really need, the reader will do the rest.

An abundance of description, or writing in general, can be used strategically at certain points in the story for a purpose. Having a long description may be essential to slowing the pace while an important scene develops. It can be used for mystery, describing the curious. Or for suspense, describing the tension.

Unless you’re certain that your description is better than any other writer out there, or you have a type of story with a lone character, the story will likely improve if description is kept at a minimum, and used in greater dosages when required. Just focus on the few lines of description that are there, and make them strong.

About Robert Steele

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1 Response to Description — Too Much or Too Little?

  1. TAWilliams says:

    Good post!
    I’m a fan of minimal descriptions. Just a sentence or two, just enough where my imagination can take over and fill in the blanks.

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