You have probably read stories or books which go on and on in unnecessary detail when they should just “cut to the chase” and let the action deliver the goods.
An example I have made in these pages before is this: Your main character has an important and (choose one) scary, exciting, mysterious… meeting to attend. Yet, rather than start at the meeting, we take the long route to get there.
We describe him getting up, stretching, showering, shaving, having breakfast, finding his keys, getting into his car, starting it up, driving out of the driveway, going down the street, getting on the freeway, dealing with traffic, getting close to his work, searching out a place to park… well, you get the idea, I hope. Unless the aforementioned is peppered—and heavily—with his running internal dialogue, his angst, his eagerness, etc., you have damaged your character and your story. You have killed your pace. Instead, you could just say, “…traffic was heavy, but he got to work on time…” or something equally brief.
But that isn’t precisely why I called you here today.
I want to talk about the setting side of the same thing. How much setting do we describe? How little? Do we go on and on about tendrils of ivy that creep up the cracked brick and stucco wall that surround the villa? Do we spend a page and a half talking about humidity? Or d we simply say, “it was hot in Mexico. His shirt clung damply…”?
Of course the answer is, “it depends”. It depends upon the “where” you are writing about, and, consider this… whether or not the setting, the locale, is actually a character in your story. I want you to think about that one for a moment.
For example, if your setting is the castle of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (AKA Dracula), the setting might have a very strong presence. Likewise, if you are writing about a well-known place in San Francisco, or the streets of Paris, you will want to be accurate, and perhaps drift slightly poetic. You will want to make your setting set mood as well as place.
On the other hand, if your setting is nondescript, a place that could be anywhere, the time and effort you put into making it real to your reader might be very different.
If your characters are bound and gagged in a tack room on a ranch, you could describe the smell of hay, of old, oiled leather. You could describe rusty metal and old wood. But… would you want to go on and on about the room?
Maybe, but only if you are setting up the reader. If describing a certain tool on the wall foreshadows how your hero escapes captivity, well and good, but otherwise, think, and think again.
Today’s challenge is to write two brief (please) descriptive scenes. One for a well-known place where your intention is to tickle the memory of your reader, and one where you keep your description to a minimum while conveying the important points.
This isn’t as easy as it might sound, but it is an essential to your writing.
Note: The goal to these challenges is to take the craft of writing out of the picture when you write. What? Yes. Hone your craft so it becomes a tool, not an obstacle to your work, and what you then concentrate on is the story, not the tools.