Reviews for The Secret Life of the American Description
hanareader chapter 1 . 7/11/2013
I completely agree with you. I've never been a fan of description myself, always skimming past paragraphs that contain them just to get onto the next scene. The only problem is that (since I myself write and post on fanfiction) it seems most readers are content with chunks of description, not just on the character's location, but also on the character's feelings, the character's well in-depth-and sometimes repetitive-reactions and thoughts to what has happened in the dialogue. Sometimes with this amount of detail I feel as if the author may think me dense or something, as if I can't perceive the character's obvious feelings to someone (for example) or even the reason why so-and-so yelled that they hated them (I'm just making this up).
And you're completely right in that readers should be left to their imagination. For example, when a character walks into their home in the story, I almost never picture their home the way the author depicts it. The rooms are usually placed the way my house, or even what people close to me have their houses look like. It makes things slightly more personal (and weird if I'm reading second person).
So all in all, this is a really good topic you've addressed, but I think many writers can't resist writing description inside, it flows to them easiest, I would think. And when such a wonderful, detailed description is done they wouldn't want to edit any of it, even if it has no relation to the plot of the story... sigh. Oh well.
Perisada chapter 1 . 4/12/2013
I thank you for this. I feel the exact same way about description. The characters; the ACTION are what drives the story. Give me a great character-driven novel and I can make up what it looks like by itself! The one exception I can think of in which description adds to a novel is if you're describing something very beautiful, and you're able to make the words succinct enough that they convey the beauty but leave something to the reader's imagination. I read Ender's Game and though I first felt a little confused without the description, I soon felt like I was completely lost and sunk within the world I had created-not the writer! This was an interesting, well developed essay, and I think you expressed your points well. I'll leave you with the best description I've EVER read:

"She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped absolutely nothing."

That might just be the best sentence in the english language. But that's just my opinion. It's from "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," a short story by JD Salinger. You should check him out, especially for his best known work, The Catcher in the Rye.
K. A. Oceana chapter 1 . 4/10/2013
This is a good essay. I can definitely see both sides of the story. However, I suppose I'd like to discuss some things with you.

*I've always been that reader who skips over paragraphs of description because I really don't care how nice that hill looked; I just care about what happens to Sammy and his pet dragon. In the same way, I rarely write much description into my stories. Call it laziness. I never saw the point. Anytime I try, it never looks like what's in my head, and it just frustrates me, so why bother?*

You've got a good point there. It can be hard to put exactly into words how the hill looks. However, I find that description can be good. Obviously, not too much - that would get way too boring. But a good amount is nice. It just gives your readers some clues as to what it looks like. They want to get a picture in their head. While it's good to leave it to their imagination, you want to give them a few clues.

*The comments on every fictional narrative I've turned in for school read something along the lines of, "Please add more sensory details." Ah, yes, sensory details, how I abhorred those days in middle school English when all we talked about were sensory details.*

Sensory details can be quite important. Sometimes when I'm reading a story and there's next to no description, it feels black and white to me. That's just my opinion and maybe I'm just weird. But I think they can come in handy. Again, not too much - too much of anything is bad.

*However, rarely do facial features say anything about a person. I have a very square face. Okay, so what does that prove? Nothing. I'm sure we're all aware of the "independent jawline" and "disdainful nose" cliches. Facial features do not determine personality. Get more creative.*

While facial features don't determine personality, it is important to give your readers a few clues as to what they look like. They want to imagine the characters. Call me nuts, but sometimes when I see a good physical description, I can imagine their voice in my head. And in a way, facial features can determine personality. If someone has a happy smile on all the time, you get the impression that they're a cheerful and confident person. Alternatively, the person could be hiding the fact that they're secretly sad about something. But maybe that's the impression the author wants you to pick up for mystery.

*Back to Ender's Game. It's sci-fi, so they have different technology from us. They call them "desks," and they're basically large tablets that people carry around and use for just about everything. But Ender, a six year old who doesn't know anything different, never stops to explain all the capacities of a desk, or what it looks like, or how big it is, or anything like that. It would be out of character for him to do so. The desk has just always been a desk, and that's how it is. Not for us, but for him. And that's the most important thing.*

You are right. It is always important to stay in character. When I'm writing description, I always ask myself, "Would [insert character's name here] really think that? Do I need to adjust this?" So I get where you're coming from. I guess the author subtly shows us the capacities of the desk as the story goes along. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I would do it. Not trying to criticise the writer or anything. Like I said, I totally get where you're coming from.

Now, you having these opinions doesn't mean that they're wrong. I'm just having a debate here. I do admire how well it was written and how you backed all your points up with explanations and even quotes sometimes.

Overall, description is important, but too much of it just gets stupid. And try to be slightly vague with your description. You do want to leave some bits to the reader's imagination. It's a very good essay!

Krystal Oceana
ghulam.rasool chapter 1 . 4/5/2013
nice
Windcast chapter 1 . 4/3/2013
Describing characters quickly gets annoying - usually I would try to describe them more through their reactions to things/people and their thoughts. And I feel everyone has a mental, kinda "basic" image of characters once you categorize them (human male, human female, humanoid creatures, etc. ) so description isn't exactly needed, although it's nice to differentiate the character from a reader's original perception if there are features of them worth pointing out.

Not sure if I first started developing my dislike of Snape due to his treatment of Harry or because of his "hook-shaped nose" which fits your "disdainful nose" cliche. But as soon as I read a nose description like that I know the character is probably going to be negative in my eyes.

Also Ender's Game was fantastic - Card achieves the desired effect without lots of description, probably because of the bluntness of the world through Ender's eyes (also the battle scenes were fun to read).

So, I'd say that without description a story just looks really choppy without any real transitions from one subject to another, while too much description leads to something like Thomas Hardy (no offense to him, but I just could not get through Return of the Native because of all the description of Egdon Heath which in itself is a dull place). I'd like to see stories utilizing extensive description without using much visual imagery because perception through the other senses seems more entertaining to read.
Ophelia Schmit chapter 1 . 4/3/2013
Yes, while the movie for Percy Jackson and the Olympians sucked, the books are some of my favorites. And nope, I don't imagine Grover being black. I'm not being racist, as I accept pretty much everyone, but Grover...no way.

You made some good points here. I am ashamed to say that I do description. To me, it just doesn't feel so naked and plain. But I think you're right, now that I've read this.

-Hermie