Imagry. This is one of the many parts of writing that I find stressful, though enjoyable. When I am writing a scene I do not truly see words on paper. I see a scene playing out from my mind to my fingers. ProtagonistA moves here, has a heated conversation with thug1, and then incites a bar brawl. But the thing I worry about is how my readers will see it. I know that even if I string all of the right words together everyone will still se something differant, but what if I put too few words and leave the reader clueless? Or too many and bore them to death? For me if I don't find that fine line in my first draft I will tend to trash the whole scene and start from scratch. So my question is: What are you views on, and your struggles with imagry? How do you deal with it?
August 20th, 2002, 06:47 PM
That's an interesting question and as with almost all of them, has as many answers as there are opinions on what makes good and bad writing.
I deliberately leave out fine detail unless it is integral to a story. I'll sketch in what's necessary and let readers decide detail for themselves - for instance, your bar room example. For me, it'll have some furniture, a bar possibly or a hatch, an idea of the number of people, a hint of the light quality and a quick hit of the smell and ambient noise. All this will be first impressions on moving in. After that, for the brawl, I'll be in a character's head so the scene will be played out from a single viewpoint so the imagery will be what he/she notices during the scrap - probably very little bar detail of enemy expression, strength, eyes, weapon skill etc. Once the fight is over, your character might notice a lot more all of a sudden. Change in atmosphere after a fight, detail on some people's faces, that sort of thing.
But, you're right, the balance is hard to strike. I believe that saying it's a bar, or a forest or a mountain, will automatically bring images to the reader's mind and while you need some description, an excess will conflict with the reader's notion. I don't see a lot of point describing every beam, leaf or rocky seam unless you want to drag the reader away from their idea - like for instance if your forest covers an entire continent, or your mountain is fifty miles high.
Some people like the sparsity of description in my work because it keeps the pace unrelenting, others find it leaves the world to thinly drawn. In the end you have to be comfortable with the level of detail scene by scene by making sure you have given the information you feel necessary to advance a plot line, character or whatever.
That's a bit of a ramble (closing on midnight here) but I hope it helps.
August 21st, 2002, 12:35 AM
I don't have trouble much with details of locations etc. And details of fights I usually have no problem with. The thing that I am having trouble with at the moment is characters moving around in a small area e.g. a village. He walked to the hut, he strode, he went north. There are only so many ways to say it. It's only in the short story I'm writing at the moment, but it sounds dull getting someone from A to B unless there is action on the way.
August 21st, 2002, 02:10 AM
I am with NOM on this one. I have tried the "detailed" description of a scene and it did not work, least for me.
I too try to give just enough to set the character firmly in his world.
I think this character lives in this world and knows it. So I try to show the world through his actions, thoughts and words. On purpose I try to keep the info dumps short and too the point. I also hate going over the "past" as repeating what has happened in the last four chapters. I try and refer to it, but not repeat it. This I hope treats my reader as if they have a brain *g*
This is an very small example of how I move a charcter through a sceen.
A voice sounded at the far end of the littered alley, a hazy lantern flickering. The watch had heard the distant scuffle and had decided to earn their pay. Mulicifer stood swearing. Gathering the night tightly around him, he faded into the narrow rear entrance of the Cock, slipping through the warped door into the bright glitter of the tavernís gaudy heart.
August 21st, 2002, 09:53 AM
It all depends on the focus of the paragraph of section of the story.
For example, if you want the section to really give hte reader a feel for hte bar, go nuts on detail of hte bar. but if hte section is abot hte fight, don't spend 30 lines etailing the grain of the wooden floor the character falls onto during the fight. If you are writing about a character's ability to sneak around a town without attracting notice, go into details about his movement.
If you're just getting the character from point A to point B, make it quick unless the story or segment of a story is actually ABOUT his journey from A to B. If that is the case, detail the streets, the buildings, the people....all of that. Otherwise, just get him there.
August 21st, 2002, 10:15 AM
And if you get really lost, have your character smack a dog. Always amusing.
August 21st, 2002, 11:02 AM
So much of what makes an author unique is his/her particular technique with regard to these issues. Too much descriptive detail tends to bore people and they skip over it in search of more action oriented chapters. At least that's what people report in the discussion groups, and I feel the same way to some extent myself. But, you still need to set the stage and the mood, so you need to describe the scenery and the characters. I try to incorporate descriptive phrases in other sentences, either during dialogue or from the character's perspective; what they are looking at when they enter a particular place or how they react to what is around them. I think that when someone is reading something as opposed to actually looking at it, they need more than just the physical parameters of it. They need to feel it as well, just as one would 'feel' tension in a room or fear or love for someone. So, your choice of what types of words to use is crucial to how well you convey the mood and feeling you want to convey, obviously. But, it is not only the adjectives you pick, but the pace of the sentence as well. Sometimes it really helps to use a simile - like or as - to express more poetically what you might otherwise simply describe.
August 21st, 2002, 02:23 PM
I think Gemquest made a good point about feeling the environment rather than just explaining physical parameters. An important extention to this is in character description.
How often have you been reading along and come to a character description that sounds like this.
"Virginia's blonde hair hung down over her shoulders. She had blue eyes and an athleic build. Although she was only five foot one, she carried herself very well.
In walked Broc. He stood six foot seven, and weighed two-hunded and thirty six pounds. He shot her a glance with his piercing brown eyes as he ran his fingers through his black hair."
A friend of mine refers to this as "hairy eyeballs syndrome." I stand guilty of this all too often. While there's nothing actually "wrong" with this, most readers are looking for a little more than just a police report on the physical traits of a character. Consider the image that we conjure up when Virgina is described as a girl who does aerobics in high heels, but doesn't even own a dress (apologies to Train). That gives different pictures to different people, but the unique traits that will help a reader to remember the character will come across.
The same is true for the generic bar brawl we've been discussing. Draw on what's important and unique.