I’ve learned long ago that there are rules that are followed that can be seen in all bestselling books. I also learned that there are other rules that are flexible and at a writer’s discretion. One of those moments comes along when I’m deciding to cut to the chase or side step to my own tune while writing different scenes.
If a writer is anything like me, they have moments when instead of simply writing a scene, we see it so vividly that we want to include all that we see. This is one of the reason I find it hard to write commercial fiction, because commercial fiction have strict rules when it comes to page and word count. This restriction limits the chance of what I call ‘enjoying the flowers for a moment.’ It can be seen in Sally Beauman’s blockbuster bestselling novel, “Destiny.”
Have you ever read a scene where the author describes everything? Depending on the reader, many may want to simply cut to the chase and most times read over areas where there’s too much description. I, on the other end, will read every single word if it’s written compelling enough. I’ve read every page of “Destiny” and enjoyed the entire book immensely. Although I read the book almost twenty years ago, about a year ago I saw it on Amazon and decided to leave a review. What I noticed were several readers stating how the author got carried away with description, and in the process gave the book a low star rating. This made me think. When is description too much? Do I want a reader reading over chunks of my story because they feel just too much infor was given?
There are some genres where description is almost a part of the rule, such as historical novels or sci-fi. I mean, really. You have to get descriptive if you're telling readers about a planet no one's ever been to before. Readers buy books like these because they like experiencing imaginary worlds. Because I'm writing a historical, I have to give some kind of description so the reader feels like they’ve gone back in time. But still, a writer can sometimes get carried away.
So when is description too much?
My answer is when the reader doesn't care about certain details because it doesn't add to the plot. When I read over a chapter and I feel like there's too much description in an area, I ask myself what parts of this description will my reader not care about reading, because the truth is too much description is bad, bad, bad! BUT, like I mentioned earlier, the rule can be flexible, as in the case with Sally Beauman. In one scene, she described the inside of a kitchen in such detail I felt like I was actually there when Ghislaine had sex with her husband for the first time in a long time. LOL. Too much description or not, “Destiny” remained on the bestsellers list for a very long time, which brings me to my next conclusion. Sometimes breaking the rule is okay, but not always.
There are also moments when I read over a chapter and feel like enough description hasn't been given. That part is very easy for me to fix, but I have learned that other writers have a problem with this. There must be a balance, but sometimes that balance isn't as easily seen for some writers. Having someone read over the chapter may provide an opportunity of getting good feedback.
Other than too much description, I have to know when a chapter is finished. I think a chapter is finished when I have made the point the chapter is making and it includes enough description and dialogue to make the chapter compelling.
I think all writers can get carried away in some of the scenes in their book. Whenever I do decide what to cut away and what to leave, it isn’t as easy as it sounds, because cutting words from a sentence or paragraph changes the flow of that sentence or paragraph and many times I have to rewrite the entire paragraph to get the right flow again. But the moments I can't decide if anything should be cut, this is when my firm rule overrides all others, and that rule is good content beats everything. As long as the plot is riveting, a reader most likely will skip over areas of too much description and finish enjoying the book. I try to find the middle ground, but sometimes I find this hard. Like today, I could see everything: the sway of the river, the tall grass and trees that grew alongside it; I could smell the air; I saw the muscles of the horse's flank move with exertion as it galloped, and the detailing on the coach it pulled; I saw what the characters were wearing down to their shoes, and the expressions they made when hearing a new discovery in the things they were faced with. I heard the words they spoke and what caused them to leave the river and return back to the mansion in equal haste.
When you have moments like these, it’s hard to describe exactly what you feel while writing. If I at least try, it’s a feeling of sheer joy and excitement. It’s hard for me to stop writing and I feel like I can write for many hours more without having a single moment of not knowing what’s going to happen next in my book. But in retrospect, I know that when I go over all that I’ve written today some of it isn’t going to make it into the final product, and that makes me sad! I hate having to cut down scenes, especially if they’re written well. But I know this is necessary and must be done. So if I want to share anything with you today it’s be careful when it comes to too much description and know when to end a chapter or a scene. Don’t give away everything all at once, but bit by bit, because the bit by bit will keep readers reading.
When you have a moment, let me know what you’re writing about and how far you’ve gotten. It’s definitely okay to share in the comments or in the Readers and Writers Forum on my website. A section has been dedicated to what people are writing under Our Community. Hopefully, if you get stuck along the way someone can help you out and get you going again. And don’t worry. The Readers and Writers Forum is a members only group, so it minimizes people coming online just to be mean spirited, because if they are I can boot them. But do share what you’re writing about and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it regardless of what that help may be.