If there is a certain breed of writers who can insert useful description flawlessly into their story-telling, I want to know what their secret is.
I struggle when writing descriptions. I’m a big plotter, rushing from drama to drama, making sure the story twists and turns as much as possible. I don’t have time to stop and smell the roses. I forget that readers can’t see into my head. I forget that they don’t know the world as well as I do, or indeed at all.
It’s a weakness I’m well aware of, and is something I struggle with day in and day out. I force myself, when on the tube, to describe the person opposite me, to take note of the small details, and build a story up from them rather than shoving those observations in at the last minute.
Yet this awareness of my own deficiency is also a curse, because I end up writing description for description’s sake. I get so caught up with the fact that I, too, can churn out a pretty phrase (with some effort), that I forget about the story. Then I have to go back and edit OUT descriptions.
A prime example is the original opening paragraph of my work-in-progress serial DarkSight:
The woman sitting opposite Maeve had the classic pursed, miserable expression of a long-time early morning commuter. Everything about her was severe, from the sharp ironed folds of her suit, to the tight clasp of her hands. Her cheeks drooped on either side of her mouth; even her red leather heels were frowning. It didn’t help that a large dog had slumped down right by her feet, his drooling mouth mere inches from her shoes.
That’s a yawn-y beginning if there ever was one, especially considering DarkSight is meant to be a seat-clenching horror serial.
The image is classic; too classic. And it’s boring, creates no empathy, does nothing to draw the reader in. Not to mention, that woman will be dead in a couple pages. Spending a whole paragraph describing her is, quite frankly, silly.
Needless to say, I’ve struck out that paragraph and am working on a catchier start.
But my problem remains. If I focus on the story, I end up with no description. If I focus on the writing, I end up with too much. Whichever way I work it, I end up editing the descriptions.
Do you have this problem, and if you do, how do you strike a balance?