I’ll take Plagues and Earthquakes over Your Opinion

Today I’d like to spin off of my remarks yesterday. Someone in the comments section mentioned description. I wrote about one aspect of writing that I think goes a long way toward making a good story: making every sentence count. Bringing up description as it applies to this concept triggers a worth while discussion. When is description too much description? When is it not enough? Isn’t all description doing work? It’s giving us more information about the story, right?

I don’t think there is a solid answer for this. The usefulness of description offered in a story can only be determined by considering it along side the other aspects of the story. Why is the description there? It may be giving us information, but how important is this information? What is the authors purpose for including it? What are they trying to create and deliver to the reader…and how is their use of description helping or hindering them?

I could probably sit here for more than an hour writing questions like these. Actually, as I write this my mind is considering what this discussion is leading to…what is my gut reaction to this? In my opinion – and this is a topic that I could write a months worth of blogs on – what every aspect of the craft comes down to is TRUTH. Is the writer telling the truth? What is the fulness of this truth? And by truth I’m not referring to the fact or fantasy…is that creature real or not. The truth I’m talking about is best friends with authenticity and genuine. Let me try to clarify by asking more questions. When reading a story consider these:

Would real people in situations like this act like this?

Is that character’s action authentic to the person the author has created?

Does this character feel real, or does she/he feel like flat and stereotypical?

Is the plot moving in a direction consistent with it’s surroundings and players?

When I read a book I look for the plot, the characters, and the setting to combine and create an experience with depth and authenticity. Description is a huge part of this. Description in a story can be judged as strong and effective at proving authenticity or counterfeit. Whether or not there can be too much good description or too little is largely a personal preference in my mind. Some people are so in love the world the author has created that they can’t seem to get enough. Others feel it bogs the story down. I think as readers we can arrive at an absolute concerning whether or not description is successfully doing it’s job or not…but we can’t arrive at an absolute over whether or not there’s too much of it. That always comes down to opinion.

And as Voltaire says, “Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.”

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Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 1:15 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Wow! The very title of this blog segment is a verbal slap in the face to my earlier comment. It kind of goes in the face of the purpose of a blog in the first place, does it not?

    I am not a writer or even an aspiring writer (even though I did get A’s on what little I did write in high school and college) but just a lowly reader. I feel like I know somewhat whereof I speak and what is good and what is filler or fluff based of my reading history.

    I have about 170 books under my belt in the last 5 years (I have only kept track for that time). Who knows how many I have read since I was 10 or 11 years old. I am retired now, so that has been a long time. I grew up reading a great deal as there were no computers or computer games; no X-Box; not PlayStation (other than my or the neighors back yard of the field somewhere nearby; tv’s were still black and white; no I Pad, I Phone or nay other ‘I’ besides me myself; no cell phones or text’ing; CD’s, DVD’s…add nauseum. Point is, ‘read’ is what I did much of the summer and bad weather days. Always owned a library card so I have read some of most of what there is out there to read both good and bad, popular authors and relative unknowns..

    As most of you I was forced to read some of the ‘Classics’ all the years attending school and college. I personally have a bit of a hard time with what is sometimes considered ‘Classic’ because some of the most boring books I have ever read or been forced to read were those Classics. Case in point is Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’. By the time I finished the book, I felt like I had finished several advanced college courses on whales. In sending out my ‘plague,’ that book could have been done in 200 pages and been a great read. I guess some Classics must be defined by English/Literature teachers/professors based on form and proper sentence structure. Others such as Ernest Hemmingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ really live up to that distinction.

    It could be that I am just not a sophisticated enough reader for the focus of this blog, but I feel that some authors including some well known ones ramble on to the point that it seems all they are attempting to do is: 1) Increase length to please the publisher; 2) Please someone looking for a long read(lots of pages); 3)The author who believes we need 1000 words to paint every mental picture; 4) The reader requires a description of every piece of furniture, picture, vase, rug, chair and table in the room, etc.

    There, I have infected you all with my bit of plague and shaken your earth…..


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