Thursday, October 18, 2012

Keeping it Vague

Today's topic isn't that sexy or kinky (forewarned!) but it's something that has a lot to do with romance and especially erotic romance. I'd like to talk about character and setting description, and really, description in general.

I've taken a lot of writing classes and learned a lot of general things about description from reading, but one thing I've come to realize is that authors use description in wildly varying amounts. I've also come to realize that for me, personally, there is a threshold after which it becomes TOO MUCH.

Nothing makes me start skimming faster than paragraph after paragraph of vivid description. It's kind of sad, because I know that the author probably spent many hours researching and crafting those descriptive passages. I also know there are readers who appreciate that level of detail. But for me personally, I feel more engaged if I can fill in some of the blanks myself.

For instance, if you tell me a couple is meeting in a cabin, that's not enough information. If you tell me they're meeting in rustic cabin in the woods by moonlight, that's just right for me. I can make the "rustic" look like my own romanticized idea of rustic in my head. I can see the woods and moonlight. It evokes mood.

But if you tell me the couple is meeting at a rustic, ivy-covered cabin in the woods with three rooms and a half-bath, with a tangle of weeds choking the front door and moonlight coming in the floral-becurtained windows and falling across the hand-hewn pine floors, then the eye-rolling will commence. Maybe the author researched carefully to picture this exact setting in her mind, but in describing it in such detail, she takes away my ability to visualize as I'd like to see it. Plus, I start skimming because I'm much more interested in what happens next, not the subtleties of hand-hewn pine.

The same goes for the hero and heroine. My personal preference is for them to be described in specific--but not minute--detail. I don't mind knowing hair and eye color, height and build and even the general character of someone's face, but I don't want to know about every feature and freckle, because I like to fill some of that in myself.

That's not to say there aren't readers out there who are hungry for character and setting detail...who really bask in it. There's a woman in my writer's group who's always nagging at me to add more detail about my hero and heroine's looks. She prefers to have a complete picture painted for her, which is a legitimate reader style.

I guess as an author it's safest to aim somewhere in the middle--providing enough detail that readers can see things in their mind, but not so much detail that it derails the flow of the story.

How do you feel about descriptive details? Are you the type of reader who wants everything painted like a picture, or the type of reader who likes to paint their own picture as you read?


  1. I'm the type of reader who want's to paint her own picture in her mind. That's not saying I don't like description, I do. I just like a middle ground. Like Goldielocks, not too little and not too much.

  2. I like vague, I prefer not to know exactly what someone looks like so I can insert what is appealing to me, for instance Lauren Dane says she was thinking of Daniel Craig when describing one of her heroes. Now Daniel's very nice but not everyones cup of tea.

  3. I think you nailed it with your cabin example... some, but not too much... and let's get on with finding out what's going on.