When Should You Describe?

There seems to be this endless struggle within the writing community centering around when and how much to describe.

Some camps are strongly of the belief you should paint a picture in words, but only by “show, not tell”. The minute you suggest that Hatless Harriet was a stuffed shirt, you’ve crossed this line and insulted the reader by giving them too much information.

Other camps suggest that you paint just enough of the picture to allow the reader to get a feel for your world and then insert their own imagined images. Except then the book gets turned into a movie, and everyone is up in arms because the book doesn’t match their concept of the book’s world. (Or even better, it’s a series of books-turned-movies, and a repeated change in directors causes the world to come to life in a different way nearly each time you step into the book’s movie version.)

I like the idea that you shouldn’t spell out everything for your reader, because that’s honestly half the fun of reading, but where do you draw the line?

I think this article actually does a nice job of delineating when description is a good investment. Describe that which might be unfamiliar. Describe that which might make a strong connection with your audience. Don’t describe just to build up your word count.


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