Last week I discussed using an object to add depth to a scene. But it’s easy to overdo it. How many times have you read so much detail in a story that your eyes glazed over? You know the one I mean:
She tapped one glossy red nail on the black lacquered table. She pushed her tinted blond hair with her other hand and caught her reflection in the side mirror. Her green eyes squinted slightly. Her clothes were…
Sorry, I had to stop. Writing that was making me cringe. There were too many colors, too much description and there was no need for it.
I’ve read stories in which the character undressed and went to bed. Unfortunately, each article of clothing (including socks and belt!) was described as the character changed out of his work clothes and into pajamas before he crawled beneath the covers. Why?
And then there was the book that used twenty pages—twenty!—to describe a character with amnesia who was walking around a city. I summarized it as, “he couldn’t remember who he was and he was lost.” Twenty pages, people.
I’ve been guilty of this as well. I wrote my novel as one long story with no chapter breaks. So each time my characters moved to a new location, I had to write how they got there. When I finally split the story into chapters, I saw how unnecessary all that movement was (not to mention repetitive. How many times can a character get in and out of a car?). It was far easier to end a chapter and have them at the new location in the next one. The reader can fill in the blanks and doesn’t miss a thing.
What is the point of the description? Does it set the stage, help the reader see better, move the story along? Is it necessary? Or is it just padding?
Imagine your story had been written by someone else. Would you want to read every word? If you’re not sure, put it aside for a few weeks and then read it again. A little distance can offer perspective.
And if you can’t bear to cut that beautifully crafted sentence that describes something so personal and heartfelt to you, do what I do: cut the sentence and put it in a file. There will always be another story.
* Image courtesy of thawats at FreeDigitalPhotos.net