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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Being Descriptive

I've been listening to a lot of Urban Fantasy lately on my iPod. The one thing that's really struck me is the amount of description. There's so much of it and I don't understand why. It's not as if these books are set in unknown worlds and it's not as if the author is describing things I won't understand.

When I read a book, I skim description stuff or skip it all together. I've never enjoyed it for a few reasons. The biggest would be that I'm visualizing the setting and characters myself and I hate when the author's description of the scene doesn't match mine. Granted, it's her book, her world, her characters, but when I read, I make it my own.

Description is also not my favorite thing because it slows down the pace of the story. I read other things besides action/adventure kinds of books, but that doesn't mean I want the pace bogged down in a description of the clothing or the scenery. I don't care, just tell me the story.

Then there's the Charles Dickens debacle. When I was in high school we were forced to read Great Expectations. Ugh! In case you're unaware of it, Dickens was originally serialized in newspapers and paid by the word! Which led to pages and pages and pages of description. At first, I skimmed, but it was endless and I started skipping it completely. Only to find myself lost a few pages later because somewhere amid the sea of words was something that actually impacted the story. This was the first time I ever used Cliff's Notes to get through assigned reading.

So now I'm listening to audio books with no real way to skip the description of the city (I know what a city looks like, thank you very much), the apartment (yes, I can visualize one of those as well), and the clothes (seriously, don't care what anyone is wearing). I'm assuming that the excessive description is a requirement of the fantasy genre that got carried over to Urban Fantasy?

Of course, one person's excessive description is another reader's just the right amount. I've had to learn to put more description in my stories than what I personally care to see. And when I revisit my characters, guess what I skip as I read? ;-)

This is one of the reasons why I don't think I'd enjoy writing fantasy or science fiction. I care about the characters, about their story, and about their growth arc. I don't care about the locations, the gadgets, the governing body of the world, or the clothing. If I say the city is Los Angeles, if I mention the crumbling red brick warehouse with a riot of brightly colored graffiti. If I say the stench of rotting garbage filled the air, that in the distance a car horn honked, I think that's enough. Let's move on and get to the story. :-)