How Much Is Too Much?-Description Wise

Novels always attract different attitudes from readers. This is particularly true of my latest wip which I am putting through two critique groups. Some think the converstions are colourful and witty, [the LOL's tell me they get my jokes] whereas some get very confused, don't 'get' the humour at all and in front of every other sentence write 'describe what this looks/smells like' and 'what does she feel about that?'

If I did what they suggested the narrative would be so bogged down with extraneous images and inner feelings, the story itself would get totally lost.

Recently I read a novel which has wonderful characterisation in a dark, mystical way [but without the werewolves and the fairies] However the author also includes a 'beat' into almost every line; a nuance, an expression, a look, or a mannerism.  I feel I am being battered on all sides by sensory overload, none of which lingers in my memory and distracts me from the actual story.

I read some of the reviews of this novel to see what others think and the superlatives vary from 'masterly' to 'wonderfully romantic', but no one says they found the lengthy descriptions of places, people, deep emotion, rooms and clothes which expound on every page a bar to the plot.

Conversely, I have also read a contemporary book which hits the ground running and races along with biting dialogue which conveys the story, but there is very little by the way of descriptions. So little in fact I don't get a clear idea of what the main characters look like. Their interaction and inner thoughts are the entire focus of the story as if their surroundings are immaterial.

The key to writing a good novel is obviously balance, but how does one discern what that balance should be as readers appear to expect different things in a novel.

Or is it the variation of writing styles that attracts us to certain work and makes us avoid others?


Jen Black said…
There's no way to please all the people all the time, whatever you right. There are lots of books about now that I start and never finish.I used to think I *ought* to finish every book but now I move on to something I like better and don't feel guilty at all. The ones I don't finish are usually all about feelings without much of a plot.
Petrea Burchard said…
It's definitely possible to overdo it, description-wise. In that case, I feel like the author is not trusting me, the reader.

As writers, we don't have to tell the reader every little thing. We have to tell them every little thing that matters, but the other stuff will be filled in by their imaginations if we just trust them. This is one reason why each reader experiences a book differently. My imagination may fill in something other than what yours does.

Oh, I could go on about this!
Maggi Andersen said…
Depends on the genre - a fast paced action story wouldn't have much. A lush historical would have a lot more. I'd be inclined to rely on my own judgment. You have a good sense of what is needed when you're reading it through - particularly after some time has elapsed. If what is happening well describes how a character feels there's no need to add anything more. I personally like lots of description. I don't enjoy reading a historical romance where there's very little.
Petrea Burchard said…
Maggi, you put it well. The amount of description really does affect pacing. Going through drafts after leaving them alone for a while helps us to see where it's overdone, or underdone.

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