Although all great writing is driven by character and plot, my favourite thing to write has always been descriptions. I love evoking sights, sounds, and smells for my readers. This is a problem…
When I write, I see the scene played out in my head, and the setting is an important part of that. I think that’s just the way my mind works. For example, in the short story I’m currently working on, a murder has taken place in a public building. In my head, I know exactly where the kitchen is in relation to the hallway, staircase and other rooms important to the plot. I know what colour scheme the building is decorated in, where the carpark is located, which way the doors open…you get the picture!
While description is a useful device for padding out longer pieces, in a short story every word must have a purpose. Unless it is essential for the reader’s understanding of the story, you have to make do with a few words and let their imagination fill in the blanks. Which means sadly for me, I end up cutting an awful lot of words when I’m editing!
Even in longer works, description must be used carefully. I’ve mentioned before that I once wrote the opening chapter of a novel, but when I went back to work on it earlier this year I found it was extremely dull – the description was an accurate portrayal of the world I was trying to create, but there was too much of it… Only a very generous reader would have given up enough of their time to wade through the description in the hope that there would be some plot on the other side. A publisher probably wouldn’t have bothered. This is a lesson I’m learning: description is only flavouring – add too much, and the meat will be inedible.