How much? Too much?

I wasn’t planning on writing about description today, until I found myself in a love-hate relationship this weekend. I picked up a new book and so far absolutely love the mystery part! Each chapter involving the mystery is oh-so-creepy-scary good. The problem is each of those chapters are sandwiched between three or four chapters of back stories and descriptions.
I long to know what happens next in the investigation, but instead find myself drowning in character history, wall by wall room layouts, detailed religious practices, character’s physical descriptions, and a long itemized list of objects that can be crammed into a community center. I feel like yelling, “Stop it!”
But as I stare at the cover reproachfully, I am aware that description level is a preference when it comes to readers. “How much is too much?” can be a subjective question.
I’ve suffered through writers who feel the need to do a complete and outright flat description of ever person met and every room entered. That is obviously bad writing, but I don’t think that’s the case I’m dealing with right now. The writing is actually very good and very colorful…there’s just too much! I know so much about the characters and their history, but the story has progressed so little.
So, as a reader, do you have a “description” threshold? Do you ever feel like there is too much? How about too little? Can a writer under-describe?
Jane Austen never told us much more than who was pretty and who was “tolerable I suppose,” but does that mean she was lacking something?
I’m asking you these questions today as fellow readers. Next time I’ll approach it from a writer’s perspective…because that’s a whole different can of worms. ;)

Btw, thanks ever so much to Elana Johnson for the contests she’s been running lately! They’ve not only been fun, but helpful to her fellow writers. :)

8 thoughts on “How much? Too much?

  1. Great post! :-D I don't believe I have ever read a book that I considered too descriptive… But I have read quite a few that I thought weren't descriptive enough! LOL! It always drives me crazy when an author doesn't even attempt to describe their characters/etc., because I consider that most important! ;-) I think being descriptive is wonderful, but you have to be subtle about it so that it doesn't interfere with the plot. Show, don't tell, that's the secret. ;-) I want my readers to be able to see what I'm seeing without making it obvious I'm drawing a picture of a certain character/scene in their minds.

  2. I only want to know the descriptive details of what is relevant to the story. I don't need every nuance of a character's looks so I can picture who might play the part in a movie. Just tell about Cyrano's big nose and that's enough.Now that might be different if another character is studying every detail about someone or something that they are looking at–then I think the observation of details tells more about the character doing the looking.Lee

  3. Brianna: Subltly is the biggest issue! It can't feel like the author is constantly taking pit stops to describe something. Lee: True, observation skills from one person to another are important. It's just a matter of avoiding overkill!

  4. Oh my, great post! I've been thinking of writing a similar post, but regarding backstory! Great minds think alike, eh? * wags eyebrows *I think the genre has some role in the amount of description. If I'm reading a thriller, I expect less. If it's literary, I expect more. Thanks for bringing up this topic!

  5. I think I've read more that have too little description, it's very sparse and actually leaves me asking questions, needing more detail. Description is often necessary to lead the reader somewhere, in actuality or emotion or tension. When it's done right, it's amazing.

  6. Hi Emily -Thanks for visiting my blog and becoming a Follower. I've returned the favor. I'll be able to keep up with your posts now. :)Writing description isn't easy for me. Like you, I much prefer the dialogue and action. BTW, great title on your book.Blessings,Susan :)

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