Listening to: My chihuahua snoring.
I want to start a discussion about description. Despite many classics having more description than dialogue, it's popular opinion today, for writers to be told to keep their descriptions short and to the point. Although, even I am guilty of sometimes skipping over chunks of description, at the same time, I can't help but think this opinion is kind of silly and more of a sales tactic. Everyone has different levels of how much description they can handle, there is no perfect ratio, and I'm an honest believer in the idea that if you write a good story that means the world to you, your audience will gather to read it, an audience that enjoys a story with the description/dialogue ratio you naturally use. Not everyone will love your story- that's a given- and you must remember that. Don't write for the pleasure of the world, write because the story must be told, and you are the storyteller, and so it is your duty to tell it.
All this being said, writers know, if they have entered the painstaking world of editing, that there is such thing as too much description AND too much dialogue. Chunks of beautifully written splendor get cut out and saved in a secret folder for our own enjoyment. But I want to hear some honest opinions about our writing and how we balance description and dialogue. I want to hear opinions about my writing and about yours. Do you think you struggle with too much description? I know I do. One sure-fire way I always use to balance things out, is to consider the shot.
I'm a super visual person, whatever I read or write, plays in my head like a movie. Since highschool, I've helped my brothers film amature shorts and music videos and made up a few storyboards, so it's probably no wonder that when I write, I see each moment as different shots. They don't have to be solely from the main character's POV because sometimes they're focused on the main character in a way that isn't something he or she is seeing, but focused on what they're feeling. This is where my balanced descriptions fly out the window.
I want to express, exactly what the main character is going through. The feeling of her stomach sinking, the way her fear overcomes her with trembling enough to make her voice waver and her fingers shake. This kind of description tends to draw comments like, "It's hard to follow what's going on." And a lot of the time, makes even me, feel like I'm repeating myself every paragraph. I try to compress the description and get the point across without taking the reader out of the story at hand, but it requires a lot of clever wording that doesn't in any way come easily.
This is where considering the shot really helps. What do I want the readers to see in this moment? First off, if the story is written from the main character's POV, it needs to be only things the main character can see, feel, and know, and even then, it should only be the things the main character is giving notice to in this moment. Just because there is a beautiful, sandy shore, with palm fronds blowing in the breeze, and white, foamy waves rushing across the sand, doesn't mean your main character will be paying attention to all this, when cornered by a pirate at the edge of the beach and the jungle. No in that moment, she's focused on her fear, that's upsetting her stomach and making her knees weak. She focused on every little move the pirate makes, trying to read his expressions and gauge his character, despite the fact that she's already decided to believe that he's no good. She focused on what to do next, where to go, how to get away.
The scene, although it would be fast-paced, would also have the feeling of time slowing down, as she is hyper-aware of every single move and every second ticking by. She notices his hand twitch beside the handle of his sword. It scares her. She glances to his eyes, striving to read him and she comes to a conclusion after reading his expression. This might be written:
"His fingers twitched beside his baldric and I shied back a step, my breath catching in my throat. A dark, mischievous spark played in his honey-brown eyes, his brow cocked and a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. Anger kindled in my chest; he was playing with me."
Something I've decided is I hate writing, she looks here or I glanced there. I don't want the reader to see the main character's eyes move from here to there, I want them to experience what that character experiences when they look from here to there and see what they see. If this little scene was in storyboard form, it might look like this. A hand twitching next a sword. (Of course from the direction and POV of where the main character is standing.) A shot of her initial reaction, her face, her shrinking back a fraction of an inch, and the way her shoulders tense when her breath catches. Instantly, we move to the pirates face, taking in the expression and perhaps the small action of a smirk. Finally a reaction shot of the main character, her on edge expression now deepening to mortification and anger. Even though I didn't write it, I still picture her fist tightening in that last sentence. Sometimes I skip on showing an action because the character doesn't even notice the action, it's involuntary and they're more focused on their thoughts or feelings.
So enough about my writing. I want to hear about your writing. I want to know your opinions on what balanced description looks like and how much you like to write description and how much you like to read description. What are your techniques on keeping your writing balanced?