Yesterday was unproductive, at least in a writerly way. I did get the lawn mowed, and I'm most of the way through Gena Showalters' latest Lords of the Underworld book. But I didn't get any editing done.
I think part of the reason is that I was afraid I would have to go back and start over on my revisions. Something I read somewhere led me to believe I might not have enough description of the locales. *shrug* Maybe I'll write a post tomorrow about when to listen to advice and when not to, but not now.
Today I'd like to talk about the issue of scene setting. Or if you will, describing the scene behind the action.
As far as I can tell, opinions about this subject differ. Some say describing the setting in detail adds depth and richness to the story. Others say it gets in the way of the plot. Personally, I think it depends on the scene and the story, but that's me. Then there is the old maxim that if the words don't add to the story in some meaningful way, they need to go in the trashcan. How meaningful is a description of the sunrise or the details of a home's decor to a plot?
Example time: In Spectacle, I have a major secondary character racing across the country to save his friends. Everything to this point for him is tension. When he reaches New Mexico, the backdrop of the sunrise in the Sangre de Cristos with the native birds singing and the trees standing as quiet sentinels relaxes the story... until he comes around a bend in the road and sees a line of smoke rising from the spot where his friends should be. (And I'm not talking campfire here, folks.)
In this case, the description didn't drive a damn thing, but it added to the impact of the next piece of the story.
So here I am with Manhunter. The locations themselves are dramatic and beautiful in their own stark way (if you've never driven I-70 from the Colorado border to I-15 in Utah, you're missing something spectacular), but other than the necessity of a certain geographical feature to the plot, the detail isn't necessary. I have already written a certain amount of description - the terrain, a bit of the flora - as I deemed it necessary, but I don't think anyone reading it is actually going to feel like they're there. I don't think they need to at this point. Later, when they're in Northern California, I go into greater depth. I need the reader to be standing in the forest; I want them to feel what the MC is feeling underneath the trees.
I guess I just answered my own question. How much is enough? Enough is whatever amount the story calls for - no more, no less.
Maybe I will go back in my next edit and add a little detail here and there - like seasoning soup. But like seasoning, a little can go a long long way. Peppering a story with description it doesn't need can make the whole thing unpalatable.
Question of the day for you: Do you know of any authors who balance the description thing perfectly? Writers who describe too much or too little? Come on, dish. Personally, when talking too much description, the first guy who comes to mind is James Fenimore Cooper. (But he does it so beautifully, I forgive him every time.)
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