By David Belt copyright 2013
Ever read a few pages of description only to turn back and reread those pages, because you got lost somewhere along the way and have no idea what the writer is trying to describe?
Or how about this scenario:
Ever read about a character for 50 pages and then find out he is a foot shorter than you thought and he has a tail?
These are extreme cases of inadequate descriptions, either too much or too little. Too much is boring at best and carries with it the risk of losing the reader, while too little makes the reader feel like the outsider on an inside joke. As readers, we have all experienced these phenomena, but as a writer it is often difficult to avoid.
Too much description stems from the writer’s over-anxiousness to share some aspect of their story. Too little description is usually oversight based on familiarity. Writers live the worlds they create. A writer knows everything there is to know about a scene, but the reader only knows what’s on the page. Writers must pick and choose which details to include and which to leave out, with the result fueling the reader’s vision.
Question: How do writers make sure they have just the right amount of detail?
Answer: Peer review.
As many of you know, I do a lot of peer reviewing for fellow writers all over the world through social media groups and the magic spun by the internet. Primarily, I assist with grammatical editing and fact-checking research, but lately I have been noticing a trend of failing descriptions. Copy editors will generally not catch these literary fallacies. Friends will not catch them. People who read your work frequently will not catch them. These sorts of flaws slip through the cracks, because an unbiased peer review was not sufficiently done.
If you’re a writer, leave your ego at home and go get an outside opinion. If you’re a reader, check into peer reviewing. It’s a great way to read stories you would never get to read otherwise. In the end, we all want the same the thing: Great stories to share with our friends and family.