August 9, 2015
Opinion time, readers. What is your preference, or perhaps tolerance, for the amount of description of places, things, physical appearance, etc. in fiction? Do you like to have an exacting rundown of what the characters look like, what the furniture in a room looks like and how it is arranged, and what everyone is wearing? Or do you tend to skip the descriptive paragraphs and scan down the page until the action recommences?
As a reader, I try to put my faith in the judgment of the author. E.R. Eddison wrote meticulously detailed descriptions of locations, character appearance, and clothing. His paragraphs are like luxurious objets d’artthemselves, running to page length depictions of a room, or the outfit of a king. And I love it. But in the hands of another author, such obsessive attention to detail would distract me, send my eyes flicking through the sentences until the story picked up again. Robert Jordan springs to mind. Too often his “Wheel of Time” books read like fashion anthropology, scrupulously recording the sartorial styles of every kingdom, and keeping up with the current trends in haute couture. It bores me. But some readers eat it up, and that is great. I’m a fan of options and variety. In fact I’m a booster, got the jersey and the commemorative plate set.
Tolkien, I think, ladled out description in perfect proportions. Again, not everyone agrees. Many readers find large parts of “The Lord of the Rings” to read like travelogues, like the journals of Lewis and Clark obsessively cataloguing every bit of flora and each geological curiosity. It worked for me, however, helping cement the illusion of Middle-Earth as a real place.
But despite my appreciation for Tolkien and Eddison, my approach is more minimalist. It depends upon what I’m writing, of course, and the specific style I’m employing. But in general, I prefer to sketch in the essential details and provide the reader enough information to paint in the rest of the mental image. Then I get on with action, keep the story moving. At least, that’s what I think I do.
Opinions? Anyone, anyone? Bueller?