Over at Mysterious Matters (it's a good blog! I imagine it's probably even a better blog if you actually (a) read mysteries or (b) write them), the author (he doesn't identify himself) in an entry about pet peeves talks about using description in an effective way. I, like Mysterious, don't care a lot about highly descriptive passages. While I'm reading, I'll actually think something like "blah blah blah the rolling fields, great, move ON," unless there's something about the description that the author has convinced me I need to see.

Maybe that's why I don't have a lot of description in my books. I'll throw in a couple of lines about the character somewhere near the front of book (without having him or her look in the mirror, thank you very much!), and that's pretty much it. My books take place in high school, so I guess, on some subconscious level, I thought "everyone knows what a high school is. why bother?"

But there's a difference between two pages of the "thin, yellow linoleum, worn from the passing of a million feet" and "it's a high school; good enough?" Sometimes, because I personally don't think a lot of description is important, I underdo the description so much that there's nothing to see at all. True story: one of the guys in my critique group, after reading a recent chapter of the TNP* was like "what do these people look like? What about their house? What about their school? They're just sort of floating in space!"

I discovered another problem with my minimalist path of description while doing the latest round of edits on The Book, in which all of my characters wear T-shirts, like, all the time. Every time I described their clothes (which, frankly, wasn't all that often), T-shirts. Some of that was conscious, of course--I didn't want to be too specific about what they were wearing because clothing can date a book very quickly. Also, the only character whose clothes really matter are my main character S's, because she's sort of a goth/emo/alterna girl, but those fashions haven't changed significantly since at least 1985 (I should know--I was one), so I didn't want to spend too much time on the clothes.

But still, only T-shirts? There's neutral to avoid dating yourself, and then there's just plain bland. Even synonyms would be better in some spots, just to give the descriptions a little variety (as Agent Ted so subtly pointed out by changing T-shirt to "top" once in his edit, without comment).

Mysterious feels that higher level of description is appropriate when setting up information key to the mystery. I'm not sure I agree with that, exactly,** but I am going to be working on including appropriate and meaningful amounts of description, especially as I set about revising the TNP. My characters are fictional, but they shouldn't seem fake, you know?


*Totally New Project
**But, again, I don't write mysteries, so what the hell do I know?


You mean to tell me your characters were wearing CLOTHES? Hee hee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 9:37:00 AM EST  

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