|A Hellcat on the Yorktown|
Details in descriptions provide one of the most powerful tools a writer has at her command.
Yet so many writers avoid descriptions in favor of dialogue. This is a mistake.
Consider a description of a man’s office which the hero is visiting. The room is described by the author by providing a list of ten items in the office. The reader now has a good mental picture of the rather generic office. The reader 'sees' it but it tells him little and it carries little to no emotion.
Another writer only describes the office with just three items mentioned but they are all meaningful to the story. In the first description there was a standard office calendar. Generic white with no illustration. In the second the calendar has a full page photo of a WWII carrier fighter at the top.
1. what does this say about the office tenant?
2. what if the hero visitor can identify the plane – name it?
3. what if the hero’s grandfather was killed in such a plane in WWII?
4. what if the grandfather died in the plane because the admiral would not turn the carrier lights on because of fear of enemy submarines? His grandfather and sixteen other pilots were sacrified just to avoid the chance that a sub was in the area. Injustice or not?
5. What if the calendar was hanging crooked? Does this bother the hero? Does it show the office tenant is sloppy or unattentive?
6. what if the hero gets up and straightens the calendar when the tenant leaves the office for a moment?
7. what if the hero gets up and straightens the calendar as he is talking to the tenant? Does this speak to power?
8. what if after the hero leaves the tenant puts the calendar back crooked just the way it was? Defiance or compulsive behavior?
9. what if the date 23 is circled in red with arrows pointing to it on four sides? AE -- Anticipatory event? What is going to happen on that date? Is it an AE and a foreshadowing of something else to come that the hero should have anticipated?
Each detail can be mined to open up many different possibilities to entertain the reader and support the story objectives.
For many writers description and the effective use of detail is a lost art. I’m reading a book right now by a very good author and the first 25% of the book is in the same setting with just two people having a very witty dialogue. Great dialogue but it’s not much of a story. I can’t even believe an experienced writer would do this. How many blogs do you see about how to write description? How many blogs are about making details do more than just paint a word picture of a scene to give the story a greater sense of reality?
I think one of the problems is all the interest in writing a novel in a month -- or even a week. This leads to novels that are mostly dialogue. The novel is written, or 1000 words are written in an hour, and the description has to wait until the second draft where a little description will be layered in -- more as an unpleasant necessity than a golden opportunity to make the narrative a better reading experience.
The devil is in the details…or shall I say in the lack of salient details.
P.S. What else was in the office?
Item #2. An old high school football trophy on a shelf behind the desk. It was broken once and the arm throwing the football was glued back on poorly.
Item #3. A large white plastic floor fan angled in a way it would only direct air at the office tenant's desk.