Eleventh Law – Avoid Too Much Description
Description has a place in your writing, but it doesn’t drive your story – character and plot do. A lot of new authors tend to get so caught up in world creation that they want to show everything to the reader. This practice bogs down your story and pulls the reader out.
My advice is: only show what is necessary. There’s a famous saying on the subject, “If you show a shotgun in the first scene, someone better fire it in the last.”
Here are some reasons to include description:
- Set the scene – Readers need sensory information to picture what is happening. Think of this like a play. A cardboard tree stands in for a forest.
- Emphasize emotion – A sad character isn’t going to notice the beautiful flowers. You’re in his head. Showing that he stares at the roses and only sees the decayed rot of a plant disease tells the reader a lot about his mental state.
- Introduce important plot elements – If the hero is going to use the Dagger of Awesomeness to slay the dragon during the climax, he needs to obtain that artifact at some point. You can make the object the subject of a quest or give it to him unobtrusively. Once he has it, mention it appearing occasionally, when it makes sense to the scene, to remind the reader of its presence. Be cautious not to overdo it, however. Trust your reader.
- Control pacing – Descriptions slow pacing. I’m working on a paranormal horror novel at the moment. Overall, the book is face paced action. When I get to the parts where I want the reader to be scared, I slow it down and go into detailed description of everything that happens and what the POV character sees. This technique allows me time to build suspense and tension. In the middle of a fight scene, there’s no time for the hero to notice anything but the blurred point striking at him.