Meg bumbles her way through the process of learning to love description AND YOU CAN TOO!
I’m not a lazy describer. I just have a persistent notion that a descriptive paragraph longer than three sentences is boring.
‘Cause I find them to be.
I skip them.
This anxiety isn’t founded in anything rational. I’ve read books. I would hazard a guess that the majority of them had paragraphs longer than three sentences. So what is it that makes some description bearable? It’s “good.”
Pointing out “good” from “boring” will only get a writer in training so far. That’s why we’re here now.
So let’s dissect this notion of good.
How do we go about conveying all of our necessary information efficiently? How do we fit all those little world building details into other things? (i.e. Characters falling into holes and clambering out. Or not, tragedies are cool too.)
I’ll be honest, that’s what I really care about. Suffering and pain. Not the happy trees in your dwarven mine founded by the last true King of An’Rath’ka before his brilliant blue and silver tabernacle fell to the fiery hell flames of- NOPE.
Everyone is bored and confused. Who fell in a hole? How are they going to get out of it? The shape, depth, and the size of the man eating rats at the bottom of the hole matter, but only in how those details affect conflict.
How do we balance this? How do we provide enough description to keep a reader grounded, but not bore them? The answer is both simple and complicated: we write descriptive prose that serves multiple purposes. Good descriptive prose combines observations of the setting with character development and conflict. Description that doesn’t make me want a nap wraps all of these notions into efficient sentences revealing information without a reader always being aware of it.
So there’s the simple part. The complicated part is in the application of this knowledge. How do we get away with that? How do we ensure our words play double or triple duty (character, conflict, setting)?
Practice. That’s the short and unbearably long answer no one wants to hear. And writing “I will add better description” on the blackboard fifty times won’t do. Iteration without innovation is a waste of everyone’s time.
So here I am with a long list of exercises between me and good descriptive prose and I’m inviting you to join in because if you’re writing, I know you like pain and suffering as much as me.
We’ll try different things, and mindfully assess after each experiment. Some exercises that work great for me, methods that I’ll apply every time I draft a new scene, will be meaningless to you and I’m sure I will hate some of these exercises. (I’ve already got something lined up where we get to write four pages describing a room. Hooray /s)
As with any good character arc, this pain and suffering will make us grow. We’ll learn where to put our description, how to pace it with our other elements, when it’s needed and when it’s not. We’ll learn how to make our descriptive prose work for our stories by establishing setting, character, and conflict efficiently and effectively. That’s the plan, anyway.
As we go, we’ll think about how each of these exercises made our minds move differently. Because if your mind isn’t adjusting as you learn, you aren’t learning. You’re spitting out words without growth and I don’t have time for that.
- Do prompts, even if they are scary or seem lame
- Get our descriptive prose to convey three things: Character, Conflict, and Setting
- Practice mindful practice
With that in mind, we’ll be starting with Brandon Sanderson’s Pyramid of Abstraction on Friday.