Monday, November 8, 2010

Pretty Little Words

Description can be hard for me to write. It’s usually what I have to add while I’m editing. Now by description, I don’t mean “he walked into the room,” or “she wasn’t tall, but thin enough to appear lanky.” I mean the little details that add flavor to the book, the good ones that really put a picture in your head.

For example, which one is better:

1: The briefcase was blue, an unusual color for business accessories, with a five-number combination lock on the front. Whatever it held was secured well.


2: It was a blue that screamed faux leather, a briefcase any well-presented executive wouldn’t be caught dead with. Even the combination lock was overdone: five numbers had to be turned before the clips released. Bad men stay out! Secret papers, in!

The first one doesn’t have much personality. The second is a bit overwritten (it was done by me after all), but I feel it has more voice, a kind of bemusement at the super-security. I also think it paints a better word-picture : )

Thoughts? Words? Needless description?


  1. The second one definitely has more voice and flows better. I agree that it's difficult to pay attention to the descriptions, the details when you're writing the first draft. For me, the first draft is all about the plot and the characters -- it's too much to also worry about descriptions (which is my weakest point, I think).

  2. The second one is definitely better.

    Details are hard for me to get right during the first draft. I attempted to put them in, but they're pretty dry. It's actually fun (and hard at the same time) adding them to the second draft.

  3. You've posed an interesting question. In my opinion, the second is more elaborate and the first is more efficient. Both are favorable for different reasons. I would consider the audience when making a decision like this. Since I write YA fiction, I sort of guide my drafts with one question: where am I going to lose them? Literary elements are definitely important, yet at the same time, reluctant teen readers hate that "crapola." Older readers would appreciate the second description more.

  4. Emy--Yes, me, too. Because I don't outline, I usually focus on plot more, adding more about my characters as I go on and in the rewrite.

    Melissa--I know. Actually, the first one came right out and the second took about three minutes to word. Good words take time.

    Paul--good point. Audience is always a factor, as is overwriting. The trick is finding the balance between numbers one and two.

    Thanks for commenting, all!

  5. I'm with Emy, I usually just bang it out in the first draft, "telling" and all. Second and later revisions for me are for adding details, fleshing out the characters, changing to "showing", etc.


  6. I agree. Description is the hardest for me, too. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

  7. Oh yeah, description can make--or break--a novel. Too little and it reads dry. Too much and it gets hard to slog through.

    I like your examples!!!


Please validate me.