I was going to blog about something deep and soulful, but the more I thought about it the more bored I got. Craft is always exciting so let's go there, shall we? 8^)
Description. I was recently involved in a discussion on another blog about description. One of the authors was saying how much she loathes writing it, and I thought, What? How can that be possible? Writing fiction is almost a hundred percent writing description.
I'm sure she was mostly talking about setting, but even that is integral to storytelling. You can't tell a good story without describing everything from place to dialogue to the emotions of the characters. And that's really my point for this blog about description: It's all about the characters.
We don't describe stuff just for the sake of giving the reader a visual aid. Description utilizes most all of the senses, this is true, but what it really does… its main purpose, as far as I'm concerned… is elicit an emotional response from your viewpoint character. And since story is all about the characters, well, you know where I'm going with this.
Description that doesn't serve to develop characters or move the plot forward does not belong in fiction. If all it says is there's a room with two chairs, a vase and a flat screen TV, who the hell cares? Even if those chairs are red and the vase is holding a bouquet of spring flowers, and there's a newscast on the TV, who the hell cares? It has to do more than that. It has to get an emotional reaction from the character whose viewpoint is used to describe the room, which should result in an emotional response from the reader.
Let's take our boring room with the two chairs in it. Red chairs, whatever. Word choice is important, too, but that's not what I'm talking about here. It's a scene where something will happen, yes. But what kind of emotions will it draw from… Susan, who just walked in after a hard day's work as a receptionist for her brother-in-law, who's a dentist. What does she feel when she's in this room? What does she see? And then what does her sister Marcia, the nurse just getting off a graveyard shift at the hospital, experience when in this room?
I want you to use one of these two characters to write a description of our lovely room with two chairs, a vase and a flat screen TV. What kind of emotion can you drag out of them here? How can you do more than set the stage for the action to come? Can you foreshadow with description? Can you create tension? Absolutely. Now have at it.
Susan dropped her purse on one of the two red chairs shoved so close together they nearly hid the tiny table sandwiched between them. Damn, this room was small. Either that or the chairs were too big. No, it was definitely the room, as evidenced by the growing stack of newspapers on the other chair. She should toss them, but she hadn't read them yet. Like she hadn't looked for a bigger apartment. Like she hadn't changed the long-ago-wilted flowers drooping in her grandmother's vintage vase on the table. The TV, however, was brand spanking new, and quite a space-saver. She should get points for that, right? Wrong. Her priorities were totally out of whack.