Round Robin – Description – How Much is Too Much – Too Little?

 
Description I remember a writing lesson exercise at primary school. The task was to describe the living room of our house. It was a huge joy when the teacher said of my piece that he would be able to walk into that room and not bump into anything because my description was so careful, he knew where everything was.
     So, is that degree of detail appropriate for the kind of historical fiction I write now?
I don’t think so. I prefer to give the reader a few clues and allow them to visualise countryside, room, people, animals, in their mind’s eye. I like to think that a clue will conjure a world.
     If it’s pouring rain, the reader will see the water from a phrase like, ‘She came up out of the underground into a mass of folk hurrying on their way beneath a jostling canopy of umbrellas.’
     On the other hand, if the sun is blazing, I might use, ‘She shielded her eyes beneath an outstretched palm. It was hard to tell whether the heat was more shocking than the expanse of flesh on view. She knew her mother was right when she said Brits don’t dress well in summertime.’
     I want to include enough to let the reader know the bits of information it is important they do not get wrong. I want them to see the difference between a young lady and her maid, a crossing-sweeper and an Eton school-boy – and so on. One of my favourite passages from one of my own books is this from Mariah’s Marriage:

“Of course Tilly would be interested in the earl’s tailored wool coat with his spotless waistcoat and carefully tied neck cloth. The men who normally visited here wore ill-fitting garments which were often stained with food. Not only that, but the earl had a clean-shaven face and the hair of his head was trimmed into a neat style that allowed his strong bones to be seen easily. Seen and admired, she thought.”

I think this little snippet of description not only tells us what Tobias looks like, but how overwhelmed Tilly is and, indeed, how Mariah, too, is succumbing.

London Girl

London Girl

     Our topic also asked whether I skimmed description when reading a book. Oh dear, yes I do. I am most likely to skim scene-setting description. It’s very unfair of me and maybe I should try harder, but honestly, I want to know the characters are in a dental surgery or a fast-food outlet, but I don’t need to know what colour the paintwork is. Unless, of course, that’s relevant to the plot.
So, if description interests you, then read on among my Round Robien friends below. I think you’ll enjoy…
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10 thoughts on “Round Robin – Description – How Much is Too Much – Too Little?

  1. You provided great examples of your style, and I know from reading you also put in enough detail to establish the period, both physically and ethically, without overwhelming the reader.

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  2. Excellent examples of how to set the scene and make the reader feel like they are there without beating them over the head with long passages of descriptive narrative. Action packed and keeping the reader fully invested.

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  3. Yeah, the paint isn’t that all important unless it is. Usually, it’s not. I’m not sure why, as authors, many of us like to include that. I try to give enough description so they can visualize it without it becoming overbearing.

    Marci

    Like

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