Monday, May 14, 2012

the boring bits and how to make them interesting

I have read upon more than one occasion that the best way to keep your readers interested is to leave out the boring bits. Often this means description because it’s usually the one place where nothing is happening. Dialogue and action move the story forward but description is like a rest area where you’re supposed to enjoy the scenery. So the question becomes how do we make our descriptive passages interesting.

Here's an example from a book I loved:

“Alone in his flat, Marco constructs tiny rooms from scraps of paper. Hallways and doors crafted from pages of books and bits of blueprint, pieces of wallpaper and fragments of letters.

He composes chambers that lead into others that Celia has created. Stairs that wind around her halls.”
From THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern
This is a description of what Marco makes and while it might not make much sense to those who haven’t read the book (which I highly recommend, by the way) you can still see how lovely it is, hear the cadence of the words, perhaps even picture what Marco is making.

The trick then is making our descriptions come alive with voice. I don’t know about you but I can hear the longing in that short little passage and I get the feeling we’re talking about more than architecture. This is how to make your descriptions stand out, be memorable, and above all, be interesting.

How do you make your descriptions sparkle?Any tricks you'd like to share?

25 comments:

  1. I agree -- descriptions should be full of voice and pertain directly to the action. And if I'm the reader, they have to be brief or I'll skip 'em.

    Marcy, be sure to pop over to my blog today. Fans of Marcy might want to stop by, too!

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  2. I'm about to go on sub with a ms that contains more description than I've ever written into a story before. I'm not even sure why it turned out that way--it wasn't intentional. I suppose it was the POV character, and how she processed her world. If it gets acquired, maybe *then* I'll feel confident about offering tips :) And ... it sounds like I should head on over to Dianne's blog!

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  3. I agree with you. Voice is where it's at, when adding a chunk of description to your story. Making it personal helps the reader to continue on the flow you've already created and hopefully gives them a more intimate stake in the story.

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  4. I think there's a risk in fantasy especially of making descriptions too flowery, which bogs down the text and makes for boring reading.

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    1. I agree. It's hard to do description right in adult fantasy because on the one hand you need to draw the world for the reader but you also have to be careful not to bore her with it.

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  5. I was going to say that I think it's voice that carries the day when it comes to interesting description, and then you already said it. :D

    That book is on my TBR pile too. I hear so many good things about it.

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  6. This is a very good tip. It's all about the voice, huh? Thx for sharing. :)

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    1. I think it is. A good voice can carry a story.

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  7. For me, it's to take what's most memorable about a scene and focus on that--odd painting, odd characteristic, odd habit. Love that excerpt.

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    1. That's an excellent idea and a good way to bring the reader into the picture without inundating him.

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  8. Night Circus is on my bookshelf begging to be read. I'm working on descriptions as well. My background is in playwriting and screenwriting and we have to entertain no one really with the descriptions, just get them out fast. Transitioning into fiction has been a little difficult.

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    1. It's a beautiful book, probably my favorite since DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND SMOKE.

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  9. I don't think my comment took. Just saying I find description difficult as well.

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  10. Gosh - I don't have any tricks except to learn from such gorgeous examples as this one here! Thank you! Take care
    x

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  11. A great post. I agree. Dean Koontz can hook me with his discriptive passages because they leak with tension and foreboding. They have voice.

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    1. I like dean Koontz, too. Twilight Eyes was one of my faves.

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  12. Descriptions are tricky to write well. I think that's why I have tendency to either them to the reader's imagination or write them later.

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  13. Thanks for the heads up!...:)JP

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  14. I like the concrete images, paper, pages of books and bits of blueprint, etc. Details like that really ground me in the story.'

    I came over from Dianne's blog to say congrats on being blitzed! :)

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  15. Reading writers whose writing you admire with an analytical eye, after you have read them for pleasure is helpful.

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    1. so true! And THE NIGHT CIRCUS was definitely a pleasure to read though I must admit it was hard not to admire at the same time!

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  16. Oh yes! It's all about voice. And not going on and on--length is key, too. I love your example excerpt! The book sounds intriguing.

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