Justine’s post on the five senses yesterday was very timely, as that is a topic that has been on my mind recently. Like several of the other ladies, I entered a few contests this year and, as part of my revision process, I’ve spent the last week or so sifting through the feedback I received from them.
As one would expect, based on the wide range of readers there are out there, the judges’ reactions to the story vary greatly – some love it (like the judge who requested a full), some find it merely tolerable, and the rest fall somewhere in the middle. I can’t do a lot with conflicting feedback where one judge finds the Goal/Motivation/Conflict to be spot on while another finds it “completely lacking”, or where one finds the romantic relationship to be fully developed and believable while another finds it “tepid at best.”
What I can address is the consistent feedback, and what the judges all seem to agree on is that there is a lack of description. Their feedback tended to include comments like these:
“There is not much attention paid to the setting”
“I don’t know what any of your characters look like”
To be fair, I’m a little hazy on what my characters look like too.
As I mentioned here I have a real problem visualizing things when I read. Descriptions of setting and character are the parts I tend to skim over. No surprise then, that when I write, those are the very parts I struggle with and tend to leave out or make as brief as possible. I felt a little better about my lack when I came across the following quote in the lecture notes for the RWA University revision class by Lani Diane Rich that I recently took:
“I’m gonna confess here; description is not my strong suit. It does not come naturally, nor do I enjoy it as a reader.” ~ Lani
Unfortunately, she did not go on to hand out a free-pass to those who aren’t big on description, as I might have hoped. Instead, it was the opposite:
“. . . description is insanely important when you’re writing a novel, and learning how to do it right is imperative.” ~ Lani
While the character exercises I learned from Susan Elizabeth Phillips at last year’s RWA conference and blogged about here have helped me along the descriptive path, and keeping the five senses in mind is a helpful tool, I still have work to do. Here is a brief snippet from a scene where I thought I had included some fairly good description, but one judge specifically flagged as needing more detail. Sigh. (Note: We’ve already met Michael at this point, but Lady Westerly is new to the stage.)
“Good afternoon, my lord,” Wallace said, accepting Michael’s hat and walking stick the next afternoon. “Lady Westerly is awaiting you upstairs.”
Michael advanced through the richly appointed entryway with its dark paneling and velvet wall coverings and up the ornate staircase to his great-aunt Gwendolyn’s boudoir, an overwhelming vision of Georgian splendor and questionable taste. A faint hint of incense and tobacco filled the air, scents that always brought her to mind wherever he encountered them. She appeared to have finally given up the powdered wigs she’d favored in years past, but it looked like little else had changed since his childhood visits.
“My dear Wallingford, so good to see you,” she said from her position on the couch. She lifted her cheek for an obligatory kiss then raised her lorgnettes and looked him over from top to bottom and back again. “Hand some devil. Pleased you appear to have made it back in one piece and unscathed.”
So, as a reader, what additional details would make this passage more vivid for you?
Are there any descriptions that you’ve read recently that you thought were really great or any writers that you could recommend as strong at description?