Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Description: How Much in Creative Writing?

"Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s." 
- Stephen King [On Writing

This is a continuation of our creative writing insights series. Our last post was on characters and character development.

Besides a compelling plot and believable characters, narration and description are vital in any creative writing or other story telling methods. The essence of dialogue and character development cannot be gainsaid. They form the glue that ultimately results in a solid plot and a great story.

Reading through the message board on Description as tackled in On Writing, some users are of the opinion that less is more, that it should be avoided if it removes imagination in the reader, that it should depend on the type of story, that it should be given sparingly... and other divergent views.

Stephen King himself has the following to say about description:
"Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how.
You can learn only by doing.

Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience. It ends with your translating what you see in your mind into words on the page."

"Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Over-description buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium. It’s also important to know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story."

Whatever the case, I feel that description should be kept to an absolutely necessary minimum. The story telling in my humble opinion, is better served when characters are used to tell the story.

It however becomes impossible to develop the plot or paint a picture in the reader's mind without reverting to description in some cases. At that point, description should be applied appropriately.

The long and short of it is that the writer needs to strike a balance to avoid boring and confusing over-description as well as thin description that can get the reader lost.

Your thoughts?