Photo by trini61
WRITING IS ALL ABOUT DETAIL, AND ISN'T
We all hear this on every corner, "Be specific in your writing. Describe every detail." And at the same time we also hear this, "Don't over-describe. Give the reader room to breathe, to imagine." When you're just starting out as a writer, when you begin working on your first short story or novella or novel, this can be confusing. What does it mean, to describe every detail and yet not to over-describe? How exactly is this possible?
Describe selected details, only those details that are absolutely necessary to move the story forward. Cut out everything else.
Every time I read stories sent to me by beginning writers, I see the same mistake repeated over and over again. I used to do this too.
EVERY LITTLE THING IS DESCRIBED. EVERY BLOODY THING.
Here is a little passage I just wrote, just as an example.
"It was January second, 1998, and the sky was laden with heavy clouds the color of steel and sorrow. There were no cars in the street at this hour, 5 a.m., too early for morning commute. The rain pattered softly on wet asphalt, pooling into large puddles that reflected the steely sky and the underside of a bright red umbrella held in a leather-gloved hand. The face of the man under the umbrella was grim. Blue piercing eyes, arched inquisitive eyebrows, thin mustache over bloodless lips. Heavy jaw, perhaps too heavy for his narrow forehead. Small ears pressed to the sides of his elongated skull. He looked expectant, waiting for someone, and every few minutes he'd take out a golden watch on a chain from his camel coat pocket and flip open the lid and glance inside, shake his head slightly, then put it back with a frown and look over one end of the street, then over another, as if whoever it was he was waiting for could come from both directions at once."
This I just wrote as an example. See how everything is meticulously described? I could add even more stuff here, but the problem with all this description is, it bogs down the story. It makes it heavy, it doesn't move it forward. And yet some of these details might be important. For example, why is he looking at the watch? To check the time? Or for some other reason? Whatever the story is, it needs to be trimmed down to essentials, like this.
"It was a rainy January morning. On an empty street stood a man under an umbrella. Every few minutes he'd take out a golden watch from his pocket, flip open the lid and study the engraving. "L & R," which stood for Tom Lenhart & Betty Rhein, both of whom had been murdered at 10:52 p.m. the night before."
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