How Much Description is Too Much?

Have you ever read a book with long passages of description?  At first, you may engage (similarly to how I used to vow to use my planner at the beginning of every semester).  And then interest falters.  Some descriptive paragraphs feel like a slog through deep mud.  I admit that even I start to skim over fat paragraphs, purely for self-preservation, after a while, and I LOVE description…

So, how much of a good thing is too much?

There are a few things I look out for, when I’m vetting my description on second, third, fourth, etc. drafts:

1. What does it look like?  And no, I don’t mean more description.  What I mean is this: take a peak at each paragraph’s girth.  What do you find?  How is the pacing of your paragraphs?  Too many long ones in a row?  There is such a thing as reader’s fatigue, and it has much to do with how the words look on the page.  A long paragraph of description appears much more manageable to a reader when cut in half, even if nothing is deleted.  This isn’t a great practice, because your paragraphs should have some sort of topical flow, but it works in a pinch nonetheless.

2. Redundancy… reduce it!  Repeating yourself slows down the reader and makes them less interested. Repeating yourself slows down the reader and makes them less interested.  Yeah?

3. The five senses are cool (the sixth even cooler) but don’t go o’erboard.  If there are more than two senses in any one paragraph, your prose begins to purple, to bloat, and to distend into something only Treebeard would have the patience to read.

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4. Pick your words carefully.  This actually has nothing to do with writing, and you’d be better off ignoring it.

5. If you can say the same thing in less words, do it.  This goes hand-in-hand with number 4.

One caveat: don’t slow yourself down with these rules!  They are to be applied after the fact.  Write everything that comes to mind when a scene is fresh and flowing.  Nail down those ideas, make ’em concrete.  You can trim the fat later.  Writing a first draft with rules in mind quickly feeds the Inner Critic, and that guy’s a real bastard when creativity is at stake.

That’s all for now!

Sweet photo, Trey Ratcliff (damn, that's a turrible last name...)
Sweet photo, Trey Ratcliff (damn, that’s a turrible last name…)

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Don’t steal my words.  They’re mine. Zachary Barnes 2015©

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