Pages of Awesome

Monday, October 26, 2009

Describing Description Descriptively

Once more it has been quite a while since my last post, due again to my growing business (I've had LOTS of school work lately). But due to the amount of people bugging me about a new post, I've kicked homeowork out of site and am typing this out for all of you.

Hope it's worth it to you.

I've been told by some of the few who've read my real writing, as in stuff I took my time on and actually EDITED, that I'm pretty good with descriptions. Complimants are always nice to get but ones referring to detail are especially appreciated, mainly because I've worked so hard at honing descriptions.

I'm sure all of you know what a description is, but I think I'll define it for the sake of this post.

Descriptions in writing are the words, sentences, and paragraphs that let the reader feel and imagine the world in which the story being read takes place. Whether this world be real or fantastical writers must prove to their readers its reality by way of description.

Clever definition eh?

But it is so true!

Without descriptions a story is rendered powerless and pointless. Because if it is true that descriptive writing is a necessary tool in making the reader believe the story and if it is also true that without the suspense of disbelief (the term referring to when a reader/movie-watcher loses sense of reality and falls into a story) a story is no good, then it must be absolutely needed to have good description in writing.

A lot of words to say something so simple, I know. But I think it's best that way.

Descriptions are a must in writing, and once more it can be difficult to find the right amount of it needed and the right way to portray it.

Well, I've picked up a few tricks and advice from others in my short time in the writing world. Seems I now have a way to pass them on to others.

First off is the question of what to describe.

Some writers describe everything, often even unneeded information. Some people like having an over detailed description, more power to them....but I don't.

And I honestly don't know anyone personally that does.

The answer to this question is simple, describe only that which is direly important to a story. If your character is swimming from an enemy there's no need to say that a sparkling blue fish, with glowing round eyes, swam by. It's distracting--detailed yes, but unimportant and distracting from the scene.

You can still describe this in detail, but describe things based on their worth not in the whim of the moment (don't anaylise that statement :P ).

Next begs the problem of how much to describe

Detail, as noted, is important. But how much is too much? In my opinion, hopefully I don't get shot here, some older works including the Lord of the Rings go a little overboard in descriptions. It is my belief, and others it seems, that detail should be based on two things.

Number one, the pace of the scene.

If the scene you are writing is a fast paced action-packed scene don't bother with description at all! I say this to make the point. If a guy is sword fighting the enemy don't be like "The swords clashed above their heads. The tree to his right was a sparkling green on the left though the leaves on the opposing side had all died."

No one cares!

Once more this is distracting.

Now, that's not where I meant to go with that <_<

Oh yes, fast paced scenes require faced paced description. Simply said, don't use big, long, words and sentences to describe a racing cheetah. It will make the animal seem slower. Descriptions take the place of time. The longer the description the longer the time. Think of a movie.

The same goes for slow scenes. A snail crawling up a tree should not be penned simply as "The snail went up the tree."

NO! This is the scene where you get to use some vocabulary. Break out that thesaurus and look up words for slowly and describe the residue on the branches leaving a trail behind the creature. Get down into the grit of things and write.

I hope that made sense. I'm starting to get tired ;)

Number two is simply relevance to the story. Which has already been overly discussed (people will think I hate descriptions or something). Just write enough to set the scene, you can do this eloquently and with detail. But if it doesn't matter at ALL, don't tell it.

Do YOU have any advice for writers on description? I sorta botched this post but I believe we can get some good discussion going. What kinds of things do you try to do with descriptions? What fun tricks do you do?

I like posting dialogue and then posting description, or truly any combination of the two. Especially to start a scene. Another thing I, along with others, like to do is use descriptions to get ideas across into the story. To get into the character's head. This is a scene hastily written with some description, not the best in the world, that I used to dive into the character. The rest of the scene does some more inner searching but contains spoilers so....I'll not post it.

Nerp Keeneye walked out on the battlements of Kinth’s very own capital, Defender. He wasn’t dressed in the common armor of a Kinthian knight, or even that of an officer. Rather, he proudly displayed the colors of Sentor.

He looked over Kinth’s ancient fields, the very place—it was said—that the Most High crafted the first Lak├»ethian horses. Farmers were plowing the battle ravaged land, trying as best they could to bring back life to the place of death.

Nerp wrapped his hand around the pommel of his sword, expecting the warm heat that was usually emitted from such a touch. But the feeling did not come; he was no longer the wearer of the great Sword.

He tapped his blade once again and turned around to face Defender’s insides. Reconstruction was happening here as well. Sujes wanted everything back to the way it had been before the Rindorian captivity of the city. The only difference Nerp could make out were simple things—less detail applied here, a little less color here—nothing major, but it pained his heart to see the city become a place of war and not beauty.

He had voiced these thoughts to Sujes, saying, “Why must our brightest light be dimmed? Why should we allow the enemy to win by simply creating a shadow of what once was?”

The King had shown a weak smile at this. Obviously he didn’t like it either, but he had peace in something no man could have but himself. “Nerp, my son, things are not always meant to be the same as they were in the past. Some things are meant to be made better.”

“But the city isn’t becoming any better!” Nerp had exclaimed. He could remain silent. Even though Defender was not in fact his home, he felt a sense of reverence for the place. It was the home of the King.

“Is it not?” Sujes had showed off one of his smiles yet again. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What I see when I look upon the men and women that are rebuilding our city, is men and women trying their best to please their Master, men and women striving to imitate the works of their King.”

At this he had leaned in and rested a hand on Nerp’s shoulder. “Rejoice in our rebuilding, my son. It is an act of worship made by those who love their Maker.”

And so it had ended.

Nerp sighed. Sujes could always make the simplest of things sound so beautiful and eloquent that they would never again be overlooked.

He felt a firm hand on his shoulder. “How does it feel to be dressed again in the colors of Sentor? The kingdom named Defense again being represented in Defender by one who could claim greatness men can only dream of.”

Nerp turned. The now trimmed up face of John Oakwood smiled back at him. He laughed. “John, you flatter me with too many words.” He patted his friend’s arm. “You know that I no longer seek authority.”

John smiled and looked up at the rising sun. “Ah yes, humble as ever my friend.” He let out a contented sigh and looked down at his feet. “You know, I saw your boy through.”

Nerp straightened. “Did you now? Where was this?”

“Back in Division. Saw him right on through to Glexotam├Č.” He chuckled. “Wonderful lad, chip off the old block if I say so myself.”

Nerp smiled. “Wonderful he is. But I certainly hope he turns out nothing like me.”

“Ah.” John slapped Nerp’s armored shoulder. “You turned out alright. You just needed to get out from the castle is all.”

Nerp looked down. “I did get out. You came with me.” He looked up and gazed deep in thought at the sunrise. “She looked right at me…I saw the fear in her eyes. And I…I…”

“That was years ago.” John interrupted. “And like you stated, I was with you then too.” He squeezed Nerp close to his side. “And now look where we stand, atop the walls of Kinth preparing to war against the tyrant who caused all this.” He sighed and turned, joined by Nerp, to gaze off into the north. “Rindor’s end will come soon. Evil cannot stand.”


Seth said...

Yet another great post by Keeneye! I don't have time to read the excerpt :(, but I'll get to it sometime tomorrow hopefully.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you on LOTR having too much info/ description. It was an awesome story, but all the description kind of stopped LOTR from being my #1 favorite boook.

Of, course, for some places in certain books, you really need that much description- for instance, a battle scene. You don't want to describe every single person, but it does help to have a description of all the people. Not too much, though.

Sometimes when I'm trying to sleep, I'll "write" scenes of my books- in my head. Last night I thought about one of my raiding scenes- my character gets stabbed by the bad guy's henchmen. But how do I describe the guy without stopping the action totally? I also faced that problem when I described an avalanche that my character was trying to get away from. He's traveling at breackneck speed, but how do I put an image in my reader's minds that will make them think, 'Run, Aaron! This horrible, blah, blah, blah, avalanche is going to get you! RUN!!!!' : D

I like the excerpt. (For feedback, it kind of seemed to drag. I don't know in what way, but it did drag a bit.) Nerp Keeneye is a pretty cool character. One question- who's the 'she'?



Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was kind of long! lol


Pyrosian Heir said...

yeah the description thing was helpful and you did make sense completely. as for the excerpt it was great. i can't wait to get more of those.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

LOTR ranks pretty high on my list ;)

For battles I try to describe landscapes and such, even characters, before the battle begins. That way the reader knows what things are like and doesn't have to worry about it during the actually action.

Drag? hmmm perhaps ;)

Nerp Keeneye ROCKS! He's the main character's father. Pretty nifty guy me thinks.

She? as in "I looked her right in the eyes..."

You'll have to read the book to find out ;) No reader will know who she is until later.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

LOTR ranks pretty high on my list ;)

For battles I try to describe landscapes and such, even characters, before the battle begins. That way the reader knows what things are like and doesn't have to worry about it during the actually action.

Drag? hmmm perhaps ;)

Nerp Keeneye ROCKS! He's the main character's father. Pretty nifty guy me thinks.

She? as in "I looked her right in the eyes..."

You'll have to read the book to find out ;) No reader will know who she is until later.

Gwendolyn said...

That exerpt, Nathan, was definitely better than the other. I enjoyed reading it, and I think you did an excellent job with the scene.:)

It's true that description can get in the way of action. For me, I have a bit of trouble with leaving description out when it should be there, rather than over-describing. In fast-paced scenes, I like to set a mood by jumping inside the character's conciousness, so to speak, and painting the scene as they're aware of it.

Ok, that was kind of random....

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Thanks Gwendolyn, much much better indeed lol.
I love that scene :D It's new to this draft which is probably why I like it lol

I used to have trouble getting description out. And so I forced my self to over describe. I knew I'd be able to edit later, and so I did. And as I got better at writing I suppose I just figured out right amounts.

wasn't too random :P

Brandon said...

I agree, Nathan. Description is definitely pivotal in creating a story...especially in the fantasy genre since it's like exploring a new universe!

everlastingscribe said...

If it helps, think of description as the focus of the camera in a movie. What you are showing the reader NEEDS to be important.

If the glowing-eyed fish bites the hero and he can then see in the dark-it needs to be described.

If the tree that has lost its' leaves on one side is a sign that the battle is turning (like the snow melting as Aslan returns to Narnia) then it needs to be described. Readers are looking for clues as they follow your lead. You don't want to lose them in a forest of words, you want them right on your heels.

It's a partnership between the storyteller and the listener really. Show them what is important. And sometimes you need to show them what is important and not let them know that it is important. Like lantern spiders. Or moon rascals. Or a forgotten wardrobe. Or a wanderer who isn't lost.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Brandon, that's one of the best things about writing fantasy too. New worlds are sweet to discover are they not?

Scribe, oh yeah...I totally get you. I was far too tired to be fully correct and cover a lot of stuff but that's what I was trying to get across. That the only descriptions necessary are the important ones and the ones that directly relate to scene/story. You follow?

If it's described and seems out of place, the reader will assume it's important and store it for later. But when I read some people's writings I notice things, a lot of things, that I ask and will not be needed later on and is absolutely NOT important and is very hurtful to the scene.

Something that's been said about a few of my scenes is that I use too many names and give too much information on certain circumstances of history and such. I see this is the same kidna thing, if a reader um reads it...they'll try and store it...and as writers we need to keep the important stuff on their minds, not the junky stuff.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of something the illustrious Mark Twain once said:

"Now I could give the reader a vivid description of the Big Trees and the marvels of Yosemite - but what has this reader done to me that I should persecute him?"


Nathan R. Petrie said...

::laughs:: I really like that quote :D

"Stand tall now and proclaim what you have seen, speak in whispered roars..."