Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: Newway12 on February 13, 2018, 09:58:03 PM

Title: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Newway12 on February 13, 2018, 09:58:03 PM
How much can you get away with ? How much can you do with out?
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Nora on February 13, 2018, 10:51:04 PM
You can get away with nothing. Look at my entry in the contest this month, there isn't a single descriptive line. The more you learn about the characters, the more you picture them in a sort of private, observation room, but the blank isn't important.
Good luck trying that for a sci Fi story set on a new planet...

I think your question is too vague. Different genres and different stories require different optimum descriptions. Are we talking novel, short story, super short like our contest? Bible sized? And is it high fantasy, or space opera? Or urban fantasy set in a city most readers know about?
Because you don't have the same needs for New York and a subterranean base on Europa.

More importantly it depends on your style. You should write as much as is comfortable and organic in your story. You'll always have people to say you dither and lose them and people moaning about how dry and featureless your world is.
The best amount is one that doesn't stop or clog the action.
Though to be honest I couldn't be more precise, since in the monthly short stories I almost always write around characters or a plot point, so location is superfluous and is the first thing to be mowed down if I'm in need of words.
I do everything by my instinctual rule of thumb, which isn't always good.
I've not written anything much longer, not ever past 10k, so I can't tell you if the novel format requires that much more attention.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: JMack on February 14, 2018, 01:21:12 AM
I would say, as little as possible, unless you’re really really good at it. To Nora’s point, people read for characters in interesting situations interacting with an interesting world. You have to gauge your own style, passion, and talent to know how much to emphasize for each. But you can’t have story without characters in conflict. Really, everything else is sugar on top.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: The Gem Cutter on February 14, 2018, 01:28:54 AM
How much can you get away with ? How much can you do with out?

There's no right answer for many reasons.
The short version of my advice: copy the style of successful authors/stories that share the key aspects of your story. These include length, genre, plot type, and approach, all of which have audiences with different expectations relating to the story's pacing, mood, level of description, things the audiences does/does not expect to be described in detail, etc.

Shorter version of my advice: read the many books, pod casts, Youtubes, etc. on the topic. "Description" from Writer's Digest is a good primer that's cheap, simple, and short.

Long version: give enough detail for the reader to see the things s/he needs to see the setting, character, placement, and action, WHEN S/HE NEEDS TO SEE IT. Only go into details that show something about the characters, contribute to the mood (suspense, melancholy, etc.), present the situation, etc. Once I know its summer in Oslo, in the mountains overlooking a fjord, everything else should have a REASON for being there. The bird on the pine tree is described because it will soon be startled and fly away, foreshadowing the arrival of .... the KILLER. It's not there because I like grackles (I do), or because their brilliant yellow eyes contrast so starkly with their jet black feathers (they do)...

Reader expectations drive everything imho - so cheat and analyze successful works. Open a book you know in the same genre, of the same length, where the approach is similar, and take highlighter markers and color all the description in a scene in a new location with new and already-known characters. Color setting in one color. Existing characters in another, and new characters in a third. You'll see patterns. Look at where the colors are relative to dialogue, their placement in the scene. Replicate the patterns, trying to keep the ratios similar, and you won't be terribly wrong. You'll probably notice that most of the time, description is served with an eyedropper, not a bucket.
Hope this is helpful.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Ryan Mueller on February 14, 2018, 04:52:28 AM
If it bores the reader, it's too much.

Unfortunately, what bores the reader is highly dependent on the individual reader.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Yora on February 14, 2018, 06:09:38 AM
I would say, as little as possible, unless you’re really really good at it. To Nora’s point, people read for characters in interesting situations interacting with an interesting world. You have to gauge your own style, passion, and talent to know how much to emphasize for each. But you can’t have story without characters in conflict. Really, everything else is sugar on top.
I quite like it when the story takes place in really fantastic environments and not just the generic English forest or castle, so having the locations of scenes well described is something I want to see. However, at the same time the flow of action must not come to a halt because of excessive exposition of any kind, so these two concerns have to be balanced. I think The Lord of the Rings can get away with a lot of descriptions because the pacing of the action is consistently very slow. When you get a lengthy paragraph describing a place, it does not feel disruptive but fits nicely in the flow of the overall story.
One really good rule of thumb I've read from some critics of RPG books is that any space given to description needs to tell the reader things that are not obvious. Don't describe things that are just as one would expect them to be by default if they were not described at all. Descriptions are the most efficient when they describe the things that add actually new information for the reader.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: ScarletBea on February 14, 2018, 08:00:47 AM
If it bores the reader, it's too much.

Unfortunately, what bores the reader is highly dependent on the individual reader.
This, and you only have to look at Bancroft's Senlin ascends: so much praise, yet for me it had a ton-load of description and not enough characters, which made me not like it as much.
(note that it's description within the story, not necessarily pages of text describing stuff, that's even worse for me)
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: JRTroughton on February 14, 2018, 09:13:41 AM
I love detailed and ornate descriptive prose, but generally prefer it to be based around action and events rather than the location itself.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Steve Harrison on February 14, 2018, 11:30:26 AM
It's very simple. You need exactly the right amount to enable readers to anchor themselves in, and picture, the scene.

Unfortunately, the answer is much more simple than the execution.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Skip on February 14, 2018, 03:39:52 PM
This, and you only have to look at Bancroft's Senlin ascends: so much praise, yet for me it had a ton-load of description and not enough characters, which made me not like it as much.
(note that it's description within the story, not necessarily pages of text describing stuff, that's even worse for me)

And there's the rub. Because I loved Senlin Ascends, thought it was the best fantasy novel I had read in years--in part because it was more inventive than most, but also because Bancroft's use of language was at exactly the right tone for me.

So, it's no good saying write as little as possible or just enough, because what one reader likes, another will not. My advice is the same is it always is: please yourself first..

Not last, mind you. Last, please your editor. And in between, please your crit group and beta readers. Not all of them and not fully, but at least try.

Before any of that, though, you're in your early drafts, getting the story to the point where you can show it to someone else without embarrassing yourself. That's when you must please yourself. How much detail? Which POV? Which genre? Use non-human characters? What about symbolism and theme? Start in the middle? and the other four hundred and sixty-two questions we all ask each other?

Don't worry about what is right. Please yourself first.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: J.R. Darewood on February 14, 2018, 08:29:23 PM
I'd say it depends on what's going on.

"They entered the throne room and the princess sat in a chair." Had a bit of a sparse "see spot run" feel to it. It's a moment that calls for scene setting as an opportunity to immerse your reader in your world. On the other hand "He pointed the handgun and fired. It looked well oiled shiny and black and about 6 inches in length. It's hilt had traces of brown beneath his hand and..." At that moment description pulls you from the action. I think pacing and immersive relevant detail are what should guide you
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: cupiscent on February 14, 2018, 09:02:24 PM
What everyone else has said! But ALSO the more time and words you take to describe a place (or thing, or character), the more a reader will expect that place to be important. Keep your really lavish descriptions for key locations (or things, or characters...).
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Ryan Mueller on February 15, 2018, 05:19:59 AM
I'd say it depends on what's going on.

"They entered the throne room and the princess sat in a chair." Had a bit of a sparse "see spot run" feel to it. It's a moment that calls for scene setting as an opportunity to immerse your reader in your world. On the other hand "He pointed the handgun and fired. It looked well oiled shiny and black and about 6 inches in length. It's hilt had traces of brown beneath his hand and..." At that moment description pulls you from the action. I think pacing and immersive relevant detail are what should guide you

The sparse feel example would depend on your goals as a writer. If it's a typical throne room, that sentence will probably suffice. But if there's something unusual about it, focus on that.

"They entered the abandoned throne room, and the princess sat in a chair, clouds of dust swirling around her."

Much more interesting. It's not just a throne room. It's a throne room that has seen better days. It raises questions. What happened to the royal family? Is the princess coming back to claim her birthright?
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Steve Harrison on February 15, 2018, 10:58:40 AM
I'd say it depends on what's going on.

"They entered the throne room and the princess sat in a chair." Had a bit of a sparse "see spot run" feel to it. It's a moment that calls for scene setting as an opportunity to immerse your reader in your world. On the other hand "He pointed the handgun and fired. It looked well oiled shiny and black and about 6 inches in length. It's hilt had traces of brown beneath his hand and..." At that moment description pulls you from the action. I think pacing and immersive relevant detail are what should guide you

The sparse feel example would depend on your goals as a writer. If it's a typical throne room, that sentence will probably suffice. But if there's something unusual about it, focus on that.

"They entered the abandoned throne room, and the princess sat in a chair, clouds of dust swirling around her."

Much more interesting. It's not just a throne room. It's a throne room that has seen better days. It raises questions. What happened to the royal family? Is the princess coming back to claim her birthright?

This is an interesting exercise. The line, 'They entered the throne room and the princess sat in a chair,' is simplistic, but in a good way. Anyone who has ever read an historical or fantasy book or seen a TV show or movie involving royalty can instantly picture the scene. So why mess with it?

The question for the writer is, do I need to enhance this sentence and if so, why? What added value will additional description bring to the work? If there is some profound or interesting dialogue coming up, you might want to leave it as is because there are more important things you want readers to focus on. Or is there a mood you want to instill, or something important you want the setting to tell readers, or will additional description increase the suspense or assist with pacing? Or maybe you simply have something clever to say about the setting that will entertain the reader.

It's a lot of stuff to consider and the very stuff that makes me addicted to - and frustrated with - writing.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Nora on February 15, 2018, 05:41:58 PM
Well, depends if it's our first time in the thrown room. If yes, then you definitely need more description. If not, that's plenty enough.
Title: Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
Post by: Magnus Hedén on February 15, 2018, 07:03:38 PM
For description and exposition both, less is more. Too little is better than too much. Don't put anything in there that isn't necessary for the story.

And so on.  ;D