When The Scenery Takes Over The Story

Welcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings!

We all have different ways of writing, and not one of them is all wrong or all right. But I have to be honest and say nothing pulls me out of a story faster than an author who feels he/she has to describe every color, each piece of clothing, what the walls in the home have on them, every blade of grass, or how many clouds there are in the sky. It’s especially distracting and annoying when they try to cram all those adjectives and descriptions into a few sentences.

Who taught people to write this way? And WHY did they do it?

Anyone who has read at least a few of my books already knows I’m a minimalist when it comes to description. You’re lucky if you get eye and hair color from me in the first chapter. I once had an editor, yet, tell me to have the heroine look into a mirror at the beginning of a book so readers would know what color hair and eyes she had. Um… NO. Newbie mistake number 173, anyone?

Unless she looks into that mirror she sees a different person than herself, or better yet a demon lurking in the shadows, you will not read that in one of my books.

Truthfully, I pay loads of attention to such things in real life. I’m a color junkie. I love the subtleties of different hues of the same color, or the way the sky looks a different shade of blue in the summer than it does in the winter. The first thing about a person I notice is their eyes, including the color of their irises. But when I write, I prefer to allow the reader to use his/her imagination, and fill in those blanks for themselves. We all have our preferences, and mine is not to waste time on descriptions when I could be using those words on dialogue and internal thoughts instead.

As with most things in crafting a story, less is more when it comes to description. Consider the following example…

Sally leaned back against the soft, dark brown leather cushions of her Ralph Lauren sofa, crossed her long, shapely legs clad in royal blue leggings, and flipped back her ash blonde hair with one hand. Her nails, recently painted with fire engine red OPI polish, gleamed in the soft light of the brushed bronze and subtle beige torchiere floor lamp.

All righty then! Sally has great taste, and we just spent 58 words telling you that, but we gave you nothing else. There’s no substance here. We have a woman named Sally leaning back against sofa cushions, and that’s as far as we get in the action. In the forward motion of the story. Or, is this really an ad for Ralph Lauren, OPI polish, and whatever brand those leggings are? LOL!!

Let’s try again…

Sally leaned back against the sofa cushions and crossed her legs. The soft leather felt cool against her bare torso, but she was glad she’d left on the leggings for now because Jim’s tongue was practically hanging out of his mouth. She flipped her hair back with one hand. “Do you like my new nail polish?”

“What nail polish?” Jim’s eyes hadn’t left her boobs yet.

Sally laughed, extending her arms and legs. “The red stuff on the ends of my fingers and toes.”

Ah-ha! A bit different, right? We don’t have the lamp in there yet, her hair color, or the color of her leggings, but we have the red nail polish and the leather sofa. We also have a much more interesting scene. There’s a guy here, Sally is naked from the waist up, and the dude likes it.

See how you CAN incorporate subtle details of furniture, appearances, and setting without trying so hard to describe it for your readers? Is it really that important in the second example that you don’t yet know there’s a floor lamp in the room, what color that sofa is, what color leggings she’s wearing, or that Sally has blonde hair? Aren’t you far more interested to learn what happens next with Jim and his tongue?

A lot more is going on here than simply a woman leaning against the sofa cushions, surrounded by tasteful objects. In the first example, you’re like WHO CARES? In the second, you want to know what Jim’s next reaction will be, and when Sally will slide off those leggings. But I’m also betting you don’t give a rat’s ass what color they are. LOL!!

The next time you find yourself on a mission to describe every color in the room, or on your hero or heroine, STOP. Instead, find a way to weave those details in alongside action that moves your story forward. And, which gives your reader a visual that doesn’t sound like copy for an advertisement. They will thank you for. I will thank you for it.

Until next week, Happy Writing!! 


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