A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Description

Hello everyone. Sorry about the lack of action, my access to internet is limited. However, I’ve decided to try my best to start posting regularly from now on—at least once a week, I hope. I plan to start a series of posts this week on the subject of writing. I’ve recently started writing my eighth novel, and in the process of all that writing, discovered a few things that might be of interest to other writers. I have very few readers to date, so spread the word that I’ve started up this series if you like it, or know somebody who might benefit from it.

  Without further ado:

The Art of Description

  I’m aware that right now, mainstream authors generally are looking down on highly descriptive writing. A lot of modern authors, novelists, and even poets discourage over-description but little is said about the issue of under-description. I was reading an article in a writers’ magazine giving something like “The Ten Rules for Success”, written by some author whom I frankly doubt that I would ever enjoy reading. One of his tips was to describe your characters as little as possible. What!?!?

  In matters of art, it’s of the essence to work in a way that is natural for you. If you really feel uncomfortable describing your characters, don’t do it--but as a general rule for success?  There may be readers who prefer to have a character left entirely to their imagination, but I’m not one of them, and as a writer...I really, really, want to tell you what I see.

  And they’ll say, “Oh, no! Don’t tell us, show us.” This is usually good advice, but spending an entire book implying what a character looks like is a waste of time. I use my characters’ physical appearances to imply other things. I’m extremely visual in my writing. That same article said, similarly to be sparse with your descriptions of settings. Again, if that’s you’re natural style, fine, I just won’t probably make it through the first chapter of your book, personally, but don’t think that when these “serious” authors say it’s the only way, that they have any idea what they’re talking about.

  Remember that I’m something of a sci-fi/fantasy author, myself, and that surely effects my viewpoint on this topic. You could never spend the whole of a science-fiction or fantasy story implying what the people and places looked like and come out with a particularly striking piece. You don’t particularly enjoy reading a story that takes place on multiple planets that you never actually get to see, unless that supposed to be the point of the story. The antagonist in my hopefully-soon-to-be-available sci-fi trilogy Stardrift, would not be nearly as effective if you didn’t know he was seven feet tall with very fair skin, eerily pretty hands, and hair down to the middle of his thigh.

  If you don’t trust the examples of my own writing, let’s look at a few others. Suppose Emily Bronte never told us what Wuthering Heights, or Thrushcross Grange, or Heathcliff, or the moors looked like. What if Ray Bradbury didn’t tell us how the hound looked in Fareinheight 451? What if James Barry didn’t describe Neverland, or Captain Hook? Success!!! Yep.

  Don’t think I advocate describing everything though. I can’t stand it when authors start giving the reader a laundry list of all the…laundry a character is wearing. Sometimes it really is important how a character is dressed, but not always. Have you ever read any Nancy Drew mysteries? Don’t do that. But there actually are reasons for describing  attire, it can be a great way to “show and not tell” a character’s mood, or what they’re doing, or as a symbolic element, if you do that kind of thing.

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