Writing Tip: Beware Long Descriptions

Whether describing a person, a place, a thing, or a process, long detailed descriptions–unrelieved by action–are likely to be deadly. If very well done, readers will get so involved in the description, in visualizing exactly what the author had in mind, that they are taken out of the story itself. If not well done, those passages are likely to be skipped altogether. Elmore Leonard advises leaving out the parts that readers skip anyway. Replace length with strong, vivid, memorable language.

In describing people, go for details that will help define the character for the reader. For example, in describing an employee saying, “Her dress was black and blue and ruffled, better suited to a ballroom than a boardroom,” would not create the same image in the mind’s eye of every reader but it’s likely to convey the same impression–which is generally much more important.

And consider not describing transportation at all. If you need to get your character from New York to Philadelphia, put her in a car, a plane, or a train and get  her out again and let it go at that–unless something important to the story happens in transit. Even then, skip as much of the before and after as possible.

Finally, leave out the parts of routine actions that the reader can assume. For example, if a man is going out and locks the door behind him, we know without being told that he had already opened the door and closed it again.

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