27 Jan 2014: Describing Things to Death

It occurred to me that I probably should have stated in my previous post on descriptive language that there is such a thing as needless description.   This occurred to me this morning as I was reading yet another description of a sequence of events in one of my ebooks that most definitely should have been cut out in the editing process.

I’ll give you an example of the sort of thing I’m talking about.  Say in a book, the man and woman are at her place.  They’re nervous, they had a wicked fight and just made up and decided to order dinner in.

“She walked over to the door and after handing the delivery boy some cash, took the bag containing one box of white rice, two egg rolls and a pint of sweet and sour chicken.  It smelled wonderful.  She turned and uneasily passed him on her way to the kitchen where she opened the fridge to pull out, two cans of diet coke, then picked up the salt and pepper shakers along with five napkins, two forks, one spoon and a knife just in case one was needed.” 

Seriously?  How important is it to the story to know every item of food they ate and the exact number of utensils they used?  I made this description up, but I have seriously read things just like this.  Perhaps there was some hidden meaning in the Chinese order I missed, but to stream line a story, it really should have been reduced to she gave him the cash and took their Chinese food order.   Sure, over-description is something we’re all probably guilty of at one time or another.  I know I get very attached to my stories and want to convey every last detail in my mind, but you have to pull yourself back sometimes.   It’s that very last editing pass I do of my books that I try to not so much find things to fix, as try to find things to delete so I can stream line the story, trim the fat so to speak.

I think this gets on my nerves in the stories I’ve been reading lately because they’re so short as it is.  I’ve mentioned before my penchant (guilty pleasure really) for cowboy romance stories.  You have to be careful and read the fine print when you see them on Amazon.  I made the mistake of not doing that at first.  I’d be totally into a story only to look down and realize that a half hour after I started reading, I was more than half way through the book!!!  Yes, some of them are under 30 pages!!! (Amazon’s ebook page count)  I finally decided that I don’t care how good a book blurb they have, if it’s under 100 pages, I’m not interested.

So back to over-description … Now you can see how frustrating it is when they waste words on the utensil count, something completely not essential to the story at all.  DON’T WASTE YOUR WORDS!!!!  Some of these books I enjoy have precious little words as it is.

To sum it up … Keep the reader engaged in your characters, not the Chinese food order.

-Jennifer

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