Vivid Descriptions

When I write, I sometimes worry that I use too much dialogue and not enough description. I’ve read a ton of stuff where authors create vivid images with paragraphs upon paragraphs of description. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’ve never been one to go on for paragraphs to describe a setting or object. Even though I’m severely self-conscious about my simple descriptions, I realized that it’s also important to know that sometimes, less is more. As a reader, I do enjoy reading about a beautiful setting, but if the description goes on for pages, there’s a problem. I get bored. That’s just the kind of reader I am, and I know it feeds into my writing style, too.

I’m not saying we should all write as if books contained the restraints of Twitter, but we should try to be economic with our words. It’s funny, actually, that I would suggest something like this, seeing as I’m one of the wordiest writers I know. I’m long-winded more often than not, but it’s something I learned to control while I was at school. One time, in one of my creative writing classes, we did an exercise where we went through one of our short stories and crossed out every adjective and adverb. It’s an exercise in revision and conciseness, and it helped me realize exactly how many words I was using that I really didn’t need. Sometimes, it’s okay not to describe every tiny, minute, detail. Some readers, like me, enjoy having things left to the imagination. After all, that’s part of why we read in the first place, isn’t it? To exercise our imagination and use it in a way that television and movies don’t let us.

An example of vivid, but brief, description (my professor’s words, not mine) is a piece of a scene I wrote for a short story a while back:

The man had hardly been on her for ten seconds, but it was enough for him to bite a clear chunk of her neck away. The gore and blood spilled onto the concrete, as she gargled for breath. It was a sickening sound, the gasps of someone drowning in their own blood.

In the end, it comes down to word choice. Instead of using five words to describe something, pick one word that sums it up vividly. Instead of saying “pieces of her neck” spilled onto the concrete, say “gore.” “Gore” is a strong word that provoked the reaction I wanted from the people that read my story – disgust. Use “chunk” instead of “piece,” again to invoke the violent image. Saying she “gargled for breath” instead of “gasped” also provoked disgust. If you can’t tell, I’m particularly proud of this little excerpt.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when an in-depth, long description is appropriate and necessary. It’s just a matter of balancing the two kinds of description, something I’m still stumbling through.

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