Monday, September 24, 2012

Story Problem #3: Physical Description That Gets In The Way

#3 on Angela Ackerman's Top 5 Issues I Find When Critiquing is:
Physical Description That Gets In The Way
Sometimes as we try to weave in details about our character’s physical appearance or setting description, we go to far. For example: I crossed the grimy black and white tiled kitchen floor, pausing to swipe a burnt piece of jam-spotted toast off the chipped countertop where Gram had left it for me. My blond hair slid forward over my left shoulder as I...etc. etc. Not only is this bloated description distracting, it leaves a mechanical, play-by-play taste in the reader’s mouth. Show the scene with sensory detail, but make sure the prose is tight, especially in places like this where the character is simply in transition, not deep action.
This one is pretty self explanatory and I don't have much to add to it. I personally love to write descriptions, but when I go over my stories I can't find them. For some reason I avoid writing more about the setting, smells, and sensations because I'm afraid of over doing it.

We need to give a few well placed details to help ground our reader in our world. A smell here, a texture there, a sound, a color, etc, but not all at the same time. I'm sure we've all been told at least once by a crit partner, "What's she wearing? Where is he? Give me something to connect to" and then we go all crazy with descriptions when that isn't the most important thing in the story.

You have to find the right balance. The only way you're going to do that is by playing with the words. Keep in mind that a little can go a long way here.

Here are some examples using the first paragraph from Eleena's Tale (I need a title!)
1.
I hid from Mother's gaze but not from her voice. It called to me from opposite sides of the field. She must have sent the message bots to get me. I rose up on one elbow and peaked over the grass. Sure enough, three bots floated around playing the memo, but Mother stood by the house just outside the barrier.
2.
I hid from Mother’s gaze inside the tall blue-green grass in the park bubble behind our home, but not from her voice. It called to me from opposite sides of the field. She must have sent the message bots to get me. I rose up on one elbow and peaked over the grass. The cool breeze ruffled the tiny new hair that wouldn't stay in my braids, tickling my cheek. Sure enough, three oblong bots floated around playing the memo, but Mother stood by the house just outside the shimmering barrier.
3.
I hid from Mother’s brooding gaze inside the tall blue-green grass in the shimmering park bubble behind our modest one level home, but not from her anxious voice. It called to me from opposite sides of the massive oval field. She must have sent the message bots to get me. I rose up on one elbow, the sleeve of my yellow and orange striped shirt digging into the soft ground and peaked over the waving grass. The cool breeze ruffled the tiny new hair that wouldn't stay in my braids, tickling my cheek. Sure enough, three red oblong metalic bots floated around playing the recorded memo, but Mother stood grim faced with her arms folded by the house just outside the shimmering barrier.

Hopefully you can see the difference between these paragraphs. Out of these three levels of description, which one do you think you could stomach reading 300 pages of?

Remember that when you are writing your novels and stories. There are times when you can stop and give more description. Just don't write the whole book full of adjectives and other modifiers or you'll wear your reader out.

Guess what? The Bookshelf Muse is furthering their plan to take over the world help you become better writers with a new thesaurus. Over the weekend they announced the New Physical Attribute Thesaurus!