It has already been determined some of the positive elements of good description (see Description Part 1: 3 Elements of Good Description), but there are some pitfalls of description to be aware of as well. Here are six to keep in mind.
- Never use description that will serve the character, instead use description that will serve the story. That means don’t throw in description for the sake of just having it. If the description doesn’t enhance or move the story forward then cut it out. It will only serve to be a distraction.
- Description slows down a scene, so avoid describing a story element in the midst of an action scene unless you want a pause in the momentum. An alternative if you want description in an action scene would be to vary the sentence structure to include the details, but ultimately you should strive for shorter sentences in an action scene.
- Stay away from the clichés. One of the biggest clichés in description is for the author to put a character in front of a mirror and describe what he or she sees in the mirror.
- Be specific in your description, but not too much. Do not let the details limit the reader’s imagination. Be vague enough to let the reader paint a picture for themselves.
- Avoid purple prose, or overly flowery descriptive language. This sort of writing might be deemed acceptable for some types of works, or in older writings, but readers these days are looking for direct and concise writing.
- Unless a character’s clothing has a direct link to the characteristics or the story, it should be avoided, because it is nothing more than a distraction.
Example: The man sat across from me in the crowded diner. It was hard to ignore the gut wrenching stench coming off of him and the splattered stains on his tattered clothes. It was obvious to any as if he had a neon sign around his neck reading, “I’m homeless.”
This example shows a vague picture what the man is wearing, but it is used to describe his situation more than anything. The reader doesn’t need to know if he was wearing blue jeans or red T-shirt. It is enough to know that he has a stench about him, he has stains on his clothes, and the clothes are in tatters. The reader will use his/her imagination to fill in the blanks.
Check out the last part of this series…
Description Part 3: The Secret to Good Description