HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU DESCRIBE WHEN WRITING FICTION?
You’ve all read books where the author goes on and on about the room, the furniture, the heroine’s hair or the way she’s dressed. As a writer, you want the reader to picture your character and setting, but don’t go overboard. Decide what’s important. If you describe a sofa, covered in a paisley print, make sure that sofa has a critical role in the scene. Is the room old-fashioned? Were blood spots hidden in the design? Did it indicate the lack of style or clash with the rest of the room? Maybe your heroine can’t afford matching furniture or she has inherited a rag-tag furnished house. Unless that sofa in some way pushes the story forward, omit it.
I once began reading a novel where the first two pages described the ivy climbing up the side of the house and pots of flowers lined the porch. Ask yourself if that information is important. If one of your characters hides in the shadows of hanging plants or places notes in the ivy for his/her lover, it might be useful information. If you are describing a country cottage, take a critical look at your description. Don’t overdo it.
Sometimes, your character is completely out of his/her element. A city dweller might be intrigued with the flowers and garden of a country estate. Mention it, and then go on with your plot unless that’s where your character meets the love of his/her life, or discovers a dead body.
Don’t bore your reader with pages of description. Dribble it throughout your story. For instance, let’s say your heroine has long blonde hair and blue eyes. She’s five-six and weighs one hundred-twenty pounds. Writing those facts sounds like she’s filling out papers to apply for a driver’s license. Don’t tell it, show it.
“Angela gathered her blonde hair in a ponytail and covered her blues eyes with dark glasses, as if that would provide a disguise.”
If Angela is five-six, maybe she’d tower over her petite sister. No one really wants to know how much Angela weighs unless it’s important to the plot. If you feel it adds to the manuscript, you might allow the hero to describe her to one of his friends.
Insert descriptive phrases throughout your novel, but don’t make the reader suffer through boring pages of unnecessary facts.
Keep writing. Joyce