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Questions to ask before cutting/adding description. | Laura Pauling

Questions to ask before cutting/adding description.

Description sometimes gets a bad rap, but once mastered, adds great depth to a story. Here is my boring post for the week. Please, go back and read other posts for any hint of humor if you start yawning.

  1. Is your description filled with cliches and well-worn similis? Rewrite.
  2. Do you describe your setting or character as a long paragraphed laundry list? Rewrite. Use one line of description when a character is introduced, but then intersperse extra description through the action and dialogue tags.
  3. Does your description of setting take place in the middle of the scene? Move closer to the beginning.
  4. Did your word choice play double duty? Did they not only describe but help set the mood? Or reveal subtle clues about the character?
  5. Do you end up focusing on one part of the face all the time? You know those ochre-golden-shimmering eyes? Eyes are good, but you can use other parts of the body to show emotion.
  6. Alliterative Allomorph says: Is your book full of descriptions and backstory that you ‘think’ your reader needs to know?  Copy and paste all of your descriptive paragraphs into another document, so that you are only left with the present action. You’ll probably find your plot moves along at better pace. Your readers need to spend time with your characters. Let your readers discover who your characters are for themselves, instead of you telling them who they are. 
  7. Tina Lee says: Does your description follow the route your eyes would? Especially in the case of character description, don’t jump from the face to feet and back again. 
  8.  Kris says: Do you rely on adverbs? My tip – lately I’ve been trying to be conscious of limiting the adverbs to describe action. Use action to describe action. It’s hard, though. Instinctively, I want to use adverbs…slowly, guiltily, weirdly.
  9.  Lisa Green says:  Do you have more description about the beautiful lilies lining the path to the gate or even the hot and mysterious boy with the smoldering eyes than you do of your MC’s actions and reactions? If so, you better go back and figure out what you’re trying to get across to the reader. (I like this one. Proportion. What you are describing should be important to the story.)
  10. Catherine says: Do you find yourself using the same descriptive words and phrases over and over?  Use find and replace to catch those pesky buggers.

Help me fill out the list because I can’t handle being boring any longer today.  Write your question in the comments below along with a suggested answer, and if I pick your question, I’ll include a link to your blog or website. You can focus on any kind of description – setting, character, action, world building. Share your knowledge! Thanks. 

 Update: Thanks for participating and commenting. Great advice! Feel free to add your advice in the comments!

And check out this recent post from Gail Carson Levine’s blog on description and thoughts!  Scroll down to Feb. 24th for the right post. Great advice.

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13 Responses to Questions to ask before cutting/adding description.

  1. The Alliterative Allomorph March 19, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    Great idea!
    Do you have six paragraphs describing a character’s back story in the middle of the scene? Cut it down to one paragraph, maximum two, then see if you can reveal any facts that you feel are necessary for your plot through your dialogue, so you can cut it down even more.

  2. The Alliterative Allomorph March 19, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    Got another one! A better one!
    Is your book full of descriptions and backstory that you ‘think’ you reader needs to know? He’s a way to find out for sure. Copy and paste all of your descriptive paragraphs into another document, so that you are only left with the present action. You’ll probably find your plot moves along at better pace and realise that you don’t need many of those paragraphs at all. Think of it like this: When you meet someone for the first time, do you ask them to tell you about their personality, their past? No. You get to know who they are by spending time with them. Your readers need to spend time with your characters. Let your readers discover who your characters are for themselves, instead of you telling them who they are.

  3. Tina Lee March 19, 2010 at 11:50 am #

    Does your description follow the route your eyes would (especially in the case of character description, don’t ump from the face to feet and back again)?

  4. Kris March 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    I’m guilty of the eye descriptions. [raises hand slowly and looks around]. Love eyes. I noticed the other night that Aaron Kelly on American Idol looks a lot like the boy in my story – I hope he stays around so I can study him. Of course my character doesn’t sing…

    My tip – lately I’ve been trying to be conscious of limiting the adverbs to describe action. Use action to describe action. It’s hard, though. Instinctively, I want to use adverbs…slowly, guiltily, weirdly. 😉

  5. Laura March 19, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your suggestions so far guys, they’re great. I’ll choose later in the day, and the new suggestions will be up all weekend, and hopefully, this evening too.

  6. Jonathon Arntson March 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    For some reason, I go for the eyebrows. Thanks for this post, Laura, great thoughts.

  7. Laura March 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    Jon – I think eyebrows are a popular one too, maybe b/c they are so connected with the eyes? Thanks for popping in.

  8. Lisa Green March 19, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    Wow! All good points. Hmm. I would ask: Do you have more description about the beautiful lilies lining the path to the gate or even the hot and mysterious boy with the smoldering eyes than you do of your MC’s actions and reactions? If so, you better go back and figure out what you’re trying to get across to the reader. What’s important? Did you hit them over the head with it or let them figure it out for themselves? Oops, I guess that’s a second bit of advice. I’m just full of it today. Won’t say what “it” is though!

  9. Catherine A. Winn March 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    This is such a good post! I’m very guilty of using the eyes/eyebrows way too much. My question: Do you find yourself using the same descriptive words and phrases over and over?

  10. Laura March 19, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    Catherine and Lisa – super questions! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Kris March 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    Great tips, Laura! Thanks for letting us participate! Important things for all of us to remember…

  12. The Alliterative Allomorph March 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    Thanks for the group collaboration. Great idea 🙂

  13. Laura March 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    Kris and A.A. – Thanks for participating!

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