Monday, September 13, 2010

Beauty in the Breakdown: Editing Description

This is the next installment in the series Beauty in the Breakdown, on how to edit various aspects of a story. We've been talking about description. Here's the last installment on that subject—for now.

In queries about description, writers often ask which details to include and how much. The question sounds good, but often shows the writer hasn't made enough effort to figure out not only what she wants to say, but why she wants to say it. That's the benefit indirect description, which can also be conveyed through dialogue. Here's an example based on the premise above.

Diane opened the living room curtains.
Joe stood behind her. "Still watching that maple?"
She turned to him. "Do you think we should take it down and plant another?"

Knowing the story's background, this conversation says far more about what are now two characters suffering through another loss. And that's the key—knowing the story. If you're still unsure about your description, don't ask yourself what you want to say; ask yourself what you want to convey.

One rule of thumb in editing description for length: Longer is better to set a languid mood, convey a literary feel or slow the plot. Shorter is better to create suspense, convey accessibility or quicken the pace.

In the coming installments, we'll talk more about character description, dialogue, narrative and scene. All stories include these building blocks, but that doesn't mean we can afford to overlook how to best use them. On the contrary, if we don't use the best material properly, we can expect the story we thought was carefully constructed to crumble.

We'd love your input. To pose a query on a writing topic, e-mail Adele Annesi. You can also visit my online writing workshop, the Art of Editing in Writing.


Unknown said...

I realize that, in general, in my apprenticeship, I have underestimated the importance of the depth of precision. Thank you so much for all these isights into the art of editing!

Adele Annesi said...

Glad to hear it's helpful!