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Woven
09-21-2008, 02:36 AM
It saddens me greatly that pop culture seems to demand less frilly books with fewer purple prose. I love to read descriptions, but I am the only person in the real world that I know of who does. Fortunately I'm not prone to writing lengthy descriptions, but it's a skill I wish I could be better at. I'd include them if I was any good at it.

I love Anne Rivers Siddons. She makes me feel like I'm there.

Fenika
09-21-2008, 02:42 AM
Visual media has left us with no patience for purple prose imo. And that's on several levels...

joyce
09-21-2008, 02:43 AM
You're not alone. I like to read descriptions too. It's great to read something that makes you feel like you are right there, seeing and feeling everything that's going on. Of course I want the story to be moving along and not lost in descriptions alone. I have a tendency to describe and it's been hard to kill that type of writing off. It will probably be my curse to why I'll never become published.:cry:

TheAntar
09-21-2008, 03:11 AM
Hopefully. :)

Ever since I was forced to read Lord of the Flies in junior high, I've detested overly descriptive books. I didn't really enjoy LOTR for the same reasons. Don't get me wrong, the stories hidden within the pages and pages of useless description were fantastic.

So many of the classics are all description, no plot that I find them snores.

I know this is probably controversial, but I'm glad to see more character and action, less description in the books I read in modern times.

petronella63
09-21-2008, 03:14 AM
I'm another person who likes description and lots of it. I find it makes a story more real for me. And, oddly enough, it makes a story flow better because I don't have to take the time to imagine the background or the characters. I'm a weird reader, that's all I can say.

Yes, as a writer I tend to use lots of description too.

Ageless Stranger
09-21-2008, 03:16 AM
Description can be very wonderful to read indeed. China Mieville is a master of interesting description in my opinion.

Someone has to fix that dang thread title. It is causing me brain pain.

GLAZE_by_KyrstinMc
09-21-2008, 03:24 AM
Descriptions aren't dying in my book! :D

Ageless Stranger
09-21-2008, 03:36 AM
Descriptions aren't dying in my book! :D

They're dieting in mine.

kuwisdelu
09-21-2008, 03:47 AM
Probably.

Personally, I like some description. There's a fine line between too much and too little.

But in general, I like more than most of what gets published today. A lot of the bestsellers I glance through at the bookstore are far too sparse for me to try reading.

Personally, I still describe. I try my best to make my descriptions lively, and make them a part of the action, and I've yet to hear many complain.

Karen Duvall
09-21-2008, 03:54 AM
I don't think description is dead, I think it's evolved. The days of florid similes and convoluted metaphor are over, giving way to brevity with purpose. Description for the sake of description has become obsolete because in the better stories, it's woven in with other narrative constructs. Seamless. Maybe that's why you don't notice it as much. It's no longer the one in the red dress standing up in the middle of the room. It blends in to actually become part of the story.

brokenfingers
09-21-2008, 04:06 AM
I think the level of description varies with the genre you're writing in as well as the type of story you're telling. Some genres don't require as much description as others.

There's not much need to describe a car or an elevator or a mall or a train in a thriller, but when dealing with speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction) you couldn't tell the story the same way if someone had never seen them before.

Mr. Anonymous
09-21-2008, 04:21 AM
I like description, but not when there's too much of it. In other words, if there's too much I get bored. I find that as a writer I lean towards brief descriptions.

Pike
09-21-2008, 04:38 AM
There's a level of description that teases the brain and there's too much that it jams up the reading but is it dying? Nah. It varies from writer to writer on how much and where.

Woven
09-21-2008, 05:06 AM
Descriptions aren't dying in my book! :D
Argh! One of my typical "search and destroy" errors. :cry:

Woven
09-21-2008, 05:11 AM
I don't think description is dead, I think it's evolved. The days of florid similes and convoluted metaphor are over, giving way to brevity with purpose. Description for the sake of description has become obsolete because in the better stories, it's woven in with other narrative constructs. Seamless. Maybe that's why you don't notice it as much. It's no longer the one in the red dress standing up in the middle of the room. It blends in to actually become part of the story.

I hope this is true, and I think perhaps you are right. I just hope writing doesn't become just-the-facts or just-the-action.

Karen Duvall
09-21-2008, 05:21 AM
I hope this is true, and I think perhaps you are right. I just hope writing doesn't become just-the-facts or just-the-action.

You and me both. How boring would that be? :sleepy:

SPMiller
09-21-2008, 05:35 AM
It perplexes me that you'd complain about a dearth of description when, in my view, there's still far too much of it. However, I may have that perspective because 1) I read fantasy, and 2) fantasy writers tend to overdescribe stuff. Other genres may not be subject to the same flaw.

GLAZE_by_KyrstinMc
09-21-2008, 05:39 AM
They're dieting in mine.

Ah, but mine are also taking sleeping pills.

maestrowork
09-21-2008, 05:46 AM
It depends on the kind of books. When I read a thriller, I want action. I want fast pace. I want snappy dialogue. I don't want lots of descriptions -- just enough to get me there.

But there are books that are like a scrumptious dinner. It's not about the quantity but the quality, and you end up savoring every bite slowly... that's when scrumptious descriptions are wonderful treats. Ian McEwan's Atonement, for example. But I can only read these books once in a while, like a gourmet meal, and I must take my time.

GLAZE_by_KyrstinMc
09-21-2008, 05:47 AM
It depends on the kind of books. When I read a thriller, I want action. I want fast pace. I want snappy dialogue. I don't want lots of descriptions -- just enough to get me there.

But there are books that are like a scrumptious dinner. It's not about the quantity but the quality, and you end up savoring every bite slowly... that's when scrumptious descriptions are wonderful treats. Ian McEwan's Atonement, for example. But I can only read these books once in a while, like a gourmet meal, and I must take my time.

*Nodding head in agreement*

ColoradoGuy
09-21-2008, 06:03 AM
I edited the title so folks won't think spelling is a dying art, either.

gypsyscarlett
09-21-2008, 06:18 AM
I don't think description has gone anywhere. As others have noted, it really depends on the genre.

Personally, I love it. (and have some in my WIP) But then, I devour 19th c. lit.

I think it's important to know what to describe and what not. A good writer can describe a room and make you feel as though you are right there. They will highlight things. Whereas, another writer will do the "description list" that makes readers' eyes glaze over.

Alice.S
09-21-2008, 06:35 AM
oh! I know what you mean. I love reading descriptions too, and writing them, although I know I lack the talent to. And I too see it dieing out and I know that in the words of one character that people always relate my name to; "...what's the use of books without conversation and pictures." and although we're never told what that "dim" book was that she discarded before descending down the rabbit hole - that curious 12 year old never did explore the world of descriptions :(.

grrrrrshon
09-21-2008, 07:50 AM
language evolves - put on your big girl panties and get over it.

Woven
09-21-2008, 07:58 AM
It depends on the kind of books. When I read a thriller, I want action. I want fast pace. I want snappy dialogue. I don't want lots of descriptions -- just enough to get me there.

But there are books that are like a scrumptious dinner. It's not about the quantity but the quality, and you end up savoring every bite slowly... that's when scrumptious descriptions are wonderful treats. Ian McEwan's Atonement, for example. But I can only read these books once in a while, like a gourmet meal, and I must take my time.

Mmm, I must agree. "The Thornbirds" is a great one for me. But there are a couple action scenes where I wish for slightly less detail.

Darzian
09-21-2008, 07:59 AM
This thread would be somewhat relevent (It's still on the first page of this forum btw).

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=116444

Too much description can be dull. For example, describing the MC's every outfit throughout the book is going to be dull.

But description is needed to set the scene. Besides, you can replace paragraphs of description with action/dialog that still brings about the description. I found this elsewhere on this site and this it's perfect:

"I hate description," said Amy, flicking her hair over the shoulder.

This indirectly conveys that Amy has long hair, instead of saying "Amy has long hair."

Disclaimer: The above example is stolen from another member at AW. :D

Mad Queen
09-21-2008, 09:28 AM
I hate when the author takes three pages to describe the writing table, which is irrelevant for the story, but a lot of manuscripts I've been critiquing on this site have too little description in my opinion. One author wrote about a 'figure' that approached his character. What does this 'figure' look like? A few concrete, specific details are all the reader needs to imagine the scene.

Description that tells the story is essential. For instance, the author describes a bank note to show it's counterfeit. A forced window means a thief broke into the house. But I think even the 'useless' static description of hair colour and room decoration is important. My imagination doesn't work well without an initial description by the writer.

spike
09-21-2008, 06:34 PM
I believe that readers have evolved and description has evolved, also. You don't need to spend pages describing the open sea, the prairie, the arctic or a tropical island, like an author needed to do in the 19th century. Thanks to television and movies, we know what that stuff looks like.

It's not that stories don't need description, they just need a different type. While we all have an image of the cowboy in a western, how does your cowboy fit within that context, or contrast it. That's where you need your description.

It's not dead, just different.

tehuti88
09-21-2008, 06:42 PM
I like description (especially of scenery/landscapes) as long as it belongs in the story and isn't just fluff. I mean, one really doesn't need to spend a page or more describing somebody's outfit unless there's a really good reason to. But I do like being able to visualize things, and good description can help that. The catch is, some people aren't very good with it. There have been times when I know something I'm reading would be considered purple by the average reader but the wording was just so unique I adored it! (And I never, ever try to emulate it as I know it would suck if I did! Some people got it, some people don't.)

That being said, I do hate that the longer/wordier a work is, the lousier many people assume it must be. :( This goes for not only description but any other aspect of the story. Longer doesn't necessarily mean...badder. *grimaces*

This is probably my most grammatically incorrect post in quite a while.

Ageless Stranger
09-21-2008, 06:54 PM
I edited the title so folks won't think spelling is a dying art, either.

And we are all indebted to you for it. My brain pain is gone!

Now to keep this post OT.

Description isn't dying. I'd have to agree with what Karen Duvall said earlier in the thread. And also, it is a genre thing. Like maestro said, in a thriller, you want pace and tension, not heavy description. In a fantasy however, description is a bit more necessary and tolerated. We need it to be drawn into the world properly, and build an image of it in our mind. I prefer to think that description is being utilised better nowadays, and that is a good thing indeed.

NeuroFizz
09-21-2008, 07:20 PM
I don't think description is dead, I think it's evolved. The days of florid similes and convoluted metaphor are over, giving way to brevity with purpose. Description for the sake of description has become obsolete because in the better stories, it's woven in with other narrative constructs. Seamless. Maybe that's why you don't notice it as much. It's no longer the one in the red dress standing up in the middle of the room. It blends in to actually become part of the story.
I agree with Karen as well. If you read any of so many wonderful stories published these days and highlight bits of description, you'll probably see that it is in there, but blended in so it gives the necessary place and tone, but where it flows with the story to where it is almost invisible. That's what is considered good writing these days (in my opinion).

Purple prose is a whole different animal. Too often, it generates laughs in the reader rather than any sense of professional admiration or story-related appreciation. In new and developing writers, it usually signals a person who is trying to impress the reader with clever wordsmithing skills (a form of self-stroking) rather than entertaining that reader with a damn good story.

Talkatoast
09-21-2008, 07:27 PM
I believe description has become more purposeful. I hated the Scarlet Letter for the fact that it was overly descriptive--and needlessly. I was tired of reading the same description peppered throughout the book.

Life has gotten more fast paced, and novels are matching the trend of that fast-paced lifestyle. I love descriptions as well, mostly setting descriptions. I don't care what color outfit or brand the character is reading. I care about the setting in which that character is wearing the outfit. I'm a photographer of scenes and nature, so naturally I love to read setting description. However, when I do setting description, I always act first before I describe anything. And when I do describe setting, I generally keep it at a small paragraph or two. I never go overboard with a page full of setting description. And when I'm at a fast-paced scene, I keep the description to a bare minimum. No reader wants to read how Character A and B are duking it out, and then the dreaded purple prose comes along to ruin that pace.

donroc
09-21-2008, 07:52 PM
Description is a necessity for good historical fiction, but it must be woven into the showing rather than the telling.

As for stories of action and snappy dialogue only, those are the ones I put down quickly because they usually offer no information/education and generally are plot cliché driven.

circlexranch
09-21-2008, 08:29 PM
I should be working, but I am doing some tedious line-editing that makes me want to gouge my eyes out with my thumbs - so breaks are a necessity!

I do not like gratuitous descriptions. Particularly of character's appearances and dress. To me that shows insecurity with the strength of the narrative or a device to plump up word counts. One well-published thriller author I can think of is definitely guilty of this.

His character doesn't 'jump in his truck'. He 'enters his late model dark green Ford SUV.' His character's girlfriend isn't 'sexy', 'pretty' or 'dressed to kill' [yes, a cliche, but you get what I mean]. She is 'just over five feet tall with long curly dark hair pulled back in a gold clip, wearing a black velvet mini skirt, white silk blouse, front-hook black bra, fishnet stockings, and black ballet slippers.' Blech! I prefer to pick up descriptions by cues, not laundry lists.

First, not a lot of writers can do much justice to describing women's clothing. I found that outfit to be totally unsexy, she sounded more like a waitress at a catered event.

Second, he is describing his version of 'sexy', not mine. My inner vision of a sexy woman in a sexy outfit is different than his. Because of this description, I found the character's girlfriend irritating and irrelevant for the rest of the book. I mean if she dressed like that, how sound could her judgment be?

Third, he has firmly locked his character and story into an era. He has dated her. A lot of books from the seventies and eighties are now unintentionally hilarious because the writer went into in-depth, ad nauseum, descriptions of clothing that now outdated. In 2008, I don't want to read about gold lame parachute pants unless they are vital to the story.

Here is how I know a writer uses too much description. I really like audio books. They are perfect for my job. I can listen to a book while I do my manual labor. If I prefer an author in adbridged audio rather than in print, I know the author uses too much description. The above referenced writer's book was tense and exciting in audio. The abridging editor stripped out all of the extraneous words and descriptions and distilled the tale into pure action.

So, no, description is not a dying art. However, the judgment on when and where is too little, to much, or just right, is somewhat ailing in my opinion.

Talkatoast
09-21-2008, 09:55 PM
I should be working, but I am doing some tedious line-editing that makes me want to gouge my eyes out with my thumbs - so breaks are a necessity!

I do not like gratuitous descriptions. Particularly of character's appearances and dress. To me that shows insecurity with the strength of the narrative or a device to plump up word counts. One well-published thriller author I can think of is definitely guilty of this.

His character doesn't 'jump in his truck'. He 'enters his late model dark green Ford SUV.' His character's girlfriend isn't 'sexy', 'pretty' or 'dressed to kill' [yes, a cliche, but you get what I mean]. She is 'just over five feet tall with long curly dark hair pulled back in a gold clip, wearing a black velvet mini skirt, white silk blouse, front-hook black bra, fishnet stockings, and black ballet slippers.' Blech! I prefer to pick up descriptions by cues, not laundry lists.

First, not a lot of writers can do much justice to describing women's clothing. I found that outfit to be totally unsexy, she sounded more like a waitress at a catered event.

Second, he is describing his version of 'sexy', not mine. My inner vision of a sexy woman in a sexy outfit is different than his. Because of this description, I found the character's girlfriend irritating and irrelevant for the rest of the book. I mean if she dressed like that, how sound could her judgment be?

Third, he has firmly locked his character and story into an era. He has dated her. A lot of books from the seventies and eighties are now unintentionally hilarious because the writer went into in-depth, ad nauseum, descriptions of clothing that now outdated. In 2008, I don't want to read about gold lame parachute pants unless they are vital to the story.

Here is how I know a writer uses too much description. I really like audio books. They are perfect for my job. I can listen to a book while I do my manual labor. If I prefer an author in adbridged audio rather than in print, I know the author uses too much description. The above referenced writer's book was tense and exciting in audio. The abridging editor stripped out all of the extraneous words and descriptions and distilled the tale into pure action.

So, no, description is not a dying art. However, the judgment on when and where is too little, to much, or just right, is somewhat ailing in my opinion.


To the description of the woman: she sounds like a hooker.

vixey
09-21-2008, 10:06 PM
I edited the title so folks won't think spelling is a dying art, either.

*scratches head trying to figure out what original thread title was*

Writing is a daily learning process for me. One piece of advice I read was that the need for long descriptive passages had become unecessary because of the readership's exposure to the visual arts. For instance, in another thread the description of rooftops in London was reduced by a reference to the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins. We instantly have a picture in our mind. In fact, we might have gotten a bit irritated reading paragraph after paragraph of description about chimneys, levels of roofs, fogginess, smoke billowing, etc.

So, in my writing I subscribe to limited description. Let the reader form his/her own picture. HOWEVER - I've recently begun a YA novel. I asked my 15-year old daughter to read the first chapter. She (I think she's being honest) liked it - but - pointed out I needed much more description.

Talkatoast
09-21-2008, 10:11 PM
Also, I tend to only really describe settings if it's set in a fantasy world. Other than that, if they want to know about Africa, they can go pick up a book on Africa.

I have an issue though. One of my beta readers told me my time period was in flux. But throughout my novel, it screams late 1890s. I mean, I even included a Benz Velo, and how new it was, and the Benz Velo came out in 1896. I also have one of my characters comment that her dress is 1880's vintage, which shows that the time period definitely isn't 1880. I also mention about half-hoop rings, which were in the 1890s. I also mention about all sorts of Victorian things, like mannerisms, furniture, and dress. Do I have to tell readers that this is in 1896, or are they just going to type Benz Velo in Google if they really want to know the time period?

Mr Flibble
09-21-2008, 10:28 PM
I figure description depends on the POV to a large extent


If a gilr sees some guy who looks like nothing she's ever seen before she'll describe it.

If he looks normal he might get a he towered over me, or he had trouble fitting through the door or whathaveyou. Slide it in subtle like.

Sometimes a little chunk of description is necessary - but only if it fits the POV - because something looks startling, or new or odd or whatever. Other times a little clue is all that's needed.

However I have to say I hate stories where you have NO FREAKING IDEA what anyone looks like. I mean for Hel's sake give us a clue! Black hair? Blonde? Green with purple spots? WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE!!!! Even the most unobservant of POV's notice something. Even if it's only that they have nice earrings or something.

ishtar'sgate
09-22-2008, 01:56 AM
I hope description isn't a dying art. I love reading it and I love writing it. I don't really see how you can set a scene properly without description, at least in historicals. What I try to do is keep it short and that's hard. It's far easier to write a lengthy description than to compress it into a sentence or two that gives you the same sense of place and time.
Linnea

circlexranch
09-23-2008, 05:29 PM
To the description of the woman: she sounds like a hooker.

Bingo! In the book she is supposed to be a hot-shot lawyer. However, the visual pic he gave in his first introduction tainted her for the rest of the book. He described a bimbo and that's how I thought of her.

He could have dispensed with that entire 'naughty waitress' fantasy and said something along the lines of, "He saw his girlfriend at the bar, fighting off the advances of several would-be suitors. He always appreciated how she could be so smart and so sexy at the same time."

Now, everyone fill in the mental blanks of your image of what a smart and sexy woman looks like. . . . and get on with the story.

Woven
09-23-2008, 07:10 PM
Bingo! In the book she is supposed to be a hot-shot lawyer. However, the visual pic he gave in his first introduction tainted her for the rest of the book. He described a bimbo and that's how I thought of her.

He could have dispensed with that entire 'naughty waitress' fantasy and said something along the lines of, "He saw his girlfriend at the bar, fighting off the advances of several would-be suitors. He always appreciated how she could be so smart and so sexy at the same time."

Now, everyone fill in the mental blanks of your image of what a smart and sexy woman looks like. . . . and get on with the story.

It's funny, but my husband picked up on the fact that my character was attractive because I put her in a bikini in the very first chapter. I hadn't described her at all yet. Apparently that was enough for his imagination to work magic.

TheAntar
09-24-2008, 12:57 AM
It's funny, but my husband picked up on the fact that my character was attractive because I put her in a bikini in the very first chapter. I hadn't described her at all yet. Apparently that was enough for his imagination to work magic.

No man in the history of the earth has ever ruined a perfectly good opportunity to envision a hot girl in a bikini. :P

circlexranch
09-24-2008, 01:18 AM
It's funny, but my husband picked up on the fact that my character was attractive because I put her in a bikini in the very first chapter. I hadn't described her at all yet. Apparently that was enough for his imagination to work magic.

Perfect! You didn't go on and on about how hot she is. The reader, in the case your hubby, made the logic leap and pictured her how he thought she should look. Whether she is lush and curvy and the bikini barely covers her business, or whether she is long, lithe, and athletic, the reader gets to choose the hot chick of his/her liking.

mscelina
09-24-2008, 01:28 AM
Description isn't dying--efficient description is. IMO, you still have to help the reader visualize the scene. BUT that description should be a backdrop, a tapestry if you will, behind the ACTION of the scene. As readers, we want to know what kind of room a scene takes place in or what color hair a character has but we don't want to be stalled out by the description because that will keep us from the scene itself. For me, description has kind of taken the place of dialogue tags in some places: the character makes a statement, but instead of 'she shouted' or 'he grumbled' they interact with the setting or another character which allows me to slip in a tidbit of description that will layer the scene and make it a little deeper than it was before. *shrug* may just be me, and I AM odd but it seems to work well for me.

Straka
09-24-2008, 02:06 AM
I look good description that is short and to the point. Combining or contrasting strong imagines is very effective for me and doesn't require a lot of sentences.

Chrisla
09-24-2008, 09:29 PM
I think, in today's world, people are so used to fast action scenes (movies, TV), there's little interest in a more slowly developing story, despite the nuances. But sometimes I'll still stumble across a few pages or paragraphs of writing that make me stop, go back, and reread it, for the sheer pleasure of the description. I did that once with an Elizabeth George book. She'd described a scene after a storm, and I read those paragraphs three times before I went on to help the characters solve the mystery. I'd like to see more of that in the books I read -- paragraphs I can go back and savor for the pure joy of the words. For me, at least, it takes nothing away from the story; it adds to it.

maestrowork
09-24-2008, 10:05 PM
But even fast-paced movies and TV shows are filled with details. What would be the Gladiator if not for the lavish sets and costumes? The Dark Knight wouldn't have been so great if it weren't for the production value.

Great descriptions are just that -- they're details that enhance and create a vivid world for the readers to romp through. You can't completely rely on the readers' own imagination -- you have to help them out a bit. Like a great movie, the sets and costumes, etc. shouldn't distract, but they should bring that world out and keep the readers in with sights, smells, sounds, etc.