Remember back in high school when your English teacher would write, in blood red ink, at the top of your essay that you needed more description? Then you would write the next essay and it resembled a Charles Dickens piece and your teacher would then tell you to write less? There was never any pleasing your teacher when it came to description and the same can be said of your readers. As a writer, how do we find the happy medium between overly describing and not giving enough details?
Because writing is a drafty process, things can always be added or taken away. The first thing that should happen is you should describe as much as you can. Put all the Victorian Literature giants to shame with your descriptions. Describe the wall and its huge water stain shaped as a coffee mug that has been tipped over and is spilling coffee out of its right side. Talk about table with its shiny metal legs and fake blonde wood top. Describe all that you see. Use all five senses as your guide for making sure you have covered everything. Then go into a rewrite.
Is it really important to the plot that Mark smells like a mixture of coffee, cigarettes, and Downy? Do we really need to know that Sam’s right leg has a mole that is shaped like a chocolate covered raisin? The answer to that all depends on your plot. Maybe Sam has skin cancer and we need to know that it all started with that funny shaped mole. Or maybe her boyfriend Josh is so obsessed with her that he notices these lovable imperfections. Then again, maybe the mole has nothing to do with your story. Maybe that mole is for a different story.
We all know that stories take their own time in presenting themselves to us and maybe you will hit on just the perfect piece of foreshadowing. An off-handed description could really be the key to unlocking the mystery of a character or the plot. Let’s go back to Mark. Maybe his scent has nothing to do with the scene he is in at the time, but maybe in the future, a dear friend of his will be in a café and that mixture will hit the friend’s nose and they will remember how much they laughed at raisins (I am obsessed with raisins today…I have no idea why…I like raisins. I mean, I’ll eat them if they are around, but I don’t go out of my way to hunt down raisins).
Describing is a good way to also help cure writer’s block. The senses hold great memories for us. There are songs we all can’t listen to because of who or what they bring to our mind. We may smell a scent that reminds us of a time (good or bad). That is why describing using the senses is so important. It can help you fuel your memories and then you can manipulate those into a story.
So, describe everything on the first draft. You can add and remove things that don’t seem to fit in with your story in the proceeding drafts. It is always easier to take away things then it is to add because when you tend to add things, you tend to loose your original focus. Remember my campfire revisions nightmare? I haven’t touch that story in about a month. I think I will go back to that today.