What kind of descriptions do you prefer?

I’ve been thinking about different kinds of descriptions in books. There are the immensely detailed, flowery descriptions that take sometimes a full page or more. Then there are the very simple descriptions that are over in a sentence. With me it is completely dependent on my mood. Sometimes I want to get lost in detailed descriptions and sometimes I just want simplicity.

Once again I got this quote from reading Anne of the Island By: L.M. Montgomery:

“But everything in the landscape around them spoke of autumn. The sea was roaring hollowly in the distance, the fields were bare and sere, scarfed with goldenrod, the brook valley below Green Gables overflowed with asters of ethereal purple, and the Lake of Shining Waters was blue-blue-blue; not the changeful blue of spring, nor the pale azure of summer, but a clear, steadfast, serene blue, as if the water were past all moods and tenses of emotion and had settles down to a tranquility unbroken by fickle dreams.”

I absolutely loved it!

What kind of descriptions do you prefer?

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22 thoughts on “What kind of descriptions do you prefer?

  1. I’m more of the Virginia Woolf theory that too much description alienates the reader and keeps them from using their imagination. I give the reader more credit for their ability to handle a made up world, rather than detail the heck out of it. In most of Dickens’ work, I feel like I lose the story because I’m lost in the setting.

  2. As far as super descriptive writing vs. minimalism / simplicity goes– I think it all depends on what you are trying to convey in the mind of your “ideal reader,” or, to put it in a different way, how much of the image do you want to paint for them vs. how much do you want to allow their own individual imaginations to fill in the details… I enjoyed reading both styles, but I tend to have more fun when my mind has to fill in the blanks and figure things out…

  3. I want my descriptions long enough that I kina know what I’m looking at, but short enough that my eyes don’t glaze over and I say yadda yadda skip to the next paragraph. I’m not very forgiving as a reader. I hope that’s not going to give me bad book karma.

  4. For my own style it’s really dependant on the plot. If my character has the time to take in the scene then I write a moderately long description. If my character is fighting for his life he doesn’t really stop and pay attention to how the sun bounces off the trees in the distance, he’s making sure the guy in front of him isn’t going to run him through!

      • Since I’m awake now and my brain is fully functioning, I’d like to say that I like to limit my descriptions to maybe 3 or 4 things. Then I let the reader fill in the rest with their brains. I know it’s difficult not to overdo it when you have a specific picture in your head, but at some point you have to trust your reader and wonder if the very long and precise description is adding to or stalling your story.
        I couldn’t get past the first three pages of East of Eden by Steinbeck. That’s a great example of TMI. I think he may have challenged himself to see how many pages of he could possibly use to describe one landscape. I mean, yea grass, yea trees, yea hillside, yea sky, snore everyone else. It was probably a good book. Guess I’ll never know.

  5. I’m a fan of a paragraph at the beginning of a chapter, setting the scene so you know where you are – maybe two or three paragraphs if the setting is very exotic or interesting. But like you said, more than that can bog down the story. I’m assuming you’ve read Lord of the Rings? Classic example of waaaaaaaay too much description, to the point where you thunk your head down on the desk and scream “WHYYYY TOLKIEN? WHYYYY?”

  6. Whether the description is long or short, it has to move the story along. As I write more I find myself getting crisper and weaving it into the action more efficiently. But there are times where a poetic style of setting and mood and inner thought brings out a lot more description while still pushing the plot by creating the character or directing emotion or thought or scene. I love Tolkien and descriptive, poetic classics in general, but I also enjoy a writer like Koontz who can create a vivid picture, character, scene and mood with one or two sentences filled with the perfect combo of words. Tight!
    Description is fine, but wordiness has got to go! Every word should matter.
    Great discussion! Thanks for the post…

  7. It depends on the enviroment. If it’s the weather, I like it short, I really am distracted by long weather monologues but if it is something close to the characters then I like some depth.

  8. I love that you used L M Montgomery as your example. Some of her descriptions are almost like hymns to nature. I’m a fan of her way of describing a setting in full colourful detail. Emily of New Moon is another example of her fantastic descriptions of nature.

  9. I like enough description to tell me how to feel, and also how I’m supposed to feel. I want to know that the snow is deep, and a little damp. But I also want to know that it felt good to the man who was on fire. Kind of an extreme example, but I think writers need to take the reader by the hand, and tell them what to feel. That means not only describing the surroundings, but also interpreting them.

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