Description as a Virtue

17 11 2010

“I open with a clock striking, to beget an awful attention in the audience–it also marks the time, which is four o’clock in the morning, and saves a description of the rising sun, and a great deal about gilding the eastern hemisphere.”
-Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Welcome back!  This week I continue on with the second part of my blog series, Writing as a Virtue, with a topic I believe to be very delicate, and very crucial to writing a book that people will take the time to read.  Which makes it a perfect subject for this series, and, hopefully, for you.


“Film has to describe and show.”
-Ralph Bakshi

As authors, we learn from as many crafts outside our own that we can.  I, particularly, love the art of scriptwriting.  We can learn quite alot from our fellow writers of the screen.

But we have quite an interesting challenge in writing that sets us apart from film and cinema.  Whether writing short stories or novels, we have to learn the delicate balance of painting a picture with words for the reader to see.  But this is a balancing act.

Take the above quote.  Mr. Sheridan is letting us in on a litte Writer’s Slight o’Hand.  It is very important to leave some of the details up to the imagination of the reader.  That’s part of what makes reading so fun!  And while not all reading is supposed to be fun and games, it shouldn’t be a chore, either.  (But please, make sure the details you leave up to the audience are inconsequential to the story and/or the characters.  It always jolts my reading experience when the author clarifies a description that I’ve been imagining wrong for half of the book–or several books in.)


Study like a Greek philosopher!!!

Tip:  I really can’t say it enough.  Study other authors.  In this case, go read several books in your genre.  Try even reading out of your genre, and see if you can get through any fantasy/adventure novels.  Fantasy is a very ambitious genre, commonly going great lengths to describe creatures, worlds, and concepts such as magic.  Many are bogged down by this “information dump”, often in the first few chapters.  Whatever genre(s) you read, see what books you can get through without having to tape your eyelids back, and which ones you can’t.  Take note of what the authors did differently, which one worked and which didn’t.

Above all, remember to let the story speak for itself.  A story with good characters should stand on its own, complimented by the descriptions of the world around.  It shouldn’t lean on description like a cane, limping along at the cost of the reader.




One response

24 11 2010
Context as a Virtue « Wyvern's Peak

[…] Part 2:  Description as a Virtue – […]

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