To Describe or Not to Describe, that is the Question

owl-297413__180 The location for my crime novels is very important to me,  so too, the description of the crime scene because it is here the truth about the murder is played out. Sydney is also where my fictional characters live. Jill Brennan lives in Bondi and Detective Inspective Nick Rimis in Maroubra. I live in Sydney for only part of the year, so I like to go exploring when I am in town. I am an observant type of person. I am also a notorious eavesdropper. I am one of those women (I don’t believe men have this ability) who can engage in an intelligent conversation while listening to another conversation at the next table. I have been admonished by fellow writers and mentors over my use of too much description. ‘Description should be kept to a minimum, it slows the pace of the story, readers will lose interest,’ they wail. I heed their advice, BUT I LOVE DESCRIPTION!!! A book on my all time favourites list, is Rebecca, written by Daphne Du Maurier. The opening pages, three and a half, in fact, are filled with an evocative description of Manderley.

‘The woods, always a menace even in the past, had trumped in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church. And there were other trees as well, trees that I did not recognise, squat oaks and tortured elms that straggled cheek by jowl with the beeches, and had thrust themselves out of the quiet earth, along with monster shrubs and plants, none of which I remembered.’

So, as a reader or a writer, my question to you is, does description have a place in modern storytelling? What do you think?

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5 Responses to To Describe or Not to Describe, that is the Question

  1. Gail Rehbein says:

    I think it’s about finding the right balance for description. It’s needed of course because setting the context is important and describing that context can reveal important information. I think it’s a matter of balance; and also timing and placement of these descriptive passages.

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  2. gina amos says:

    Yes, I agree Gail. I like to sneak descriptive passages in, so it is not too much, not too little, but just so it is, to quote Goldilocks, ‘just right!’

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  3. Sue Coletta says:

    Use description as foreshadowing. Say there’s a old church, where later in the book will house a vicious crime or the site of a murder victim. Describe it in lavish detail when the character first encounters it so the reader remembers. Then, when the church appears again later, give a little reminder and then the reader will know something creepy is about happen, because you’ve made a big deal of it. And that’s the key, IMO. When we describe something we’re subconsciously telling the reader this person, place, object is important. So, no, I don’t think description on its own is a good enough reason to do it.

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